For want of a few words, Martha’s Vineyard towns lose $2M grant

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The Massachusetts Department of Community Housing and Development (DCHD) rejected an application for $2 million in federal home improvement and child care grants for Island families, because of a glitch in the application process, according to the grant administrator and state officials.

Bailey Boyd Associates, the firm that writes and administers the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) for Martha’s Vineyard towns, erred in listing the towns applying for grants in legal advertisements, as required.

“This is due to an issue with the public hearing we held for the grant,” grant administrator Alice Boyd said in a letter to members of the advisory group that oversees the grant process. “We at Bailey Boyd Associates take full responsibility for this error.”

Low- and moderate-income Island families have benefited substantially from the federal grants, which the state distributes to local communities through a formula based on need and other factors.

Qualifying local families got more than $8 million in federal grants for energy related home improvements over the past decade. Nearly all of that work went to Island contractors. Last year, the government awarded approximately $300,000 in child care subsidies to Island families, for children enrolled in local pre-schools or day care.

“We are devastated by what this means for the families that have become dependent on the assistance provided through this program, and for program staff who have contributed so much to the success of these projects,” wrote Ms. Boyd in her letter to the advisory group.

In a phone conversation with The Times on Monday, Ms. Boyd explained the advertisements listed only Oak Bluffs and Edgartown as lead towns applying for grants. Tisbury residents were eligible for part of the Oak Bluffs grant as a secondary applicant, while Chilmark and Aquinnah residents could apply for part of the Edgartown grant. Those towns were not included in the legal advertisements. Through a quirk of the grant formula, West Tisbury was not eligible for the federal funds this year, according to Ms. Boyd.

“It was a glitch in the public hearing advertisement,” Ms. Boyd said. “I have to take responsibility. Twenty-four years I’ve been doing this, this is the first time something like this happened. It’s heartbreaking. Our biggest concern is the families.”

According to the Department of Community Housing and Development, the federal guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the grant applications are clear, and leaving out the names of the towns affected is not a minor ommission.

“When the public is not informed of the opportunity to participate, this important process is jeopardized,” state spokesman Mary-Leah Assad said in a statement. “Additionally, in a highly competitive environment, it would be unfair to allow applicants that don’t meet threshold requirements to receive funds over communities that meet the requirements.”

Ms. Boyd said she would apply for the grant again next year.

Child care cost

While the largest part of the grant money was for home improvements, the loss of the child care subsidies to families counting on the assistance may prove more distressing, child care advocates and pre-school directors say.

Last year, 32 child care providers received payments covering a portion of child care expenses for 77 Island children, according to the grant administrator. The subsidies range from $3,000 to $5,000 per family annually. In order get assistance, both parents must work, or be seeking work and land a job within a specified time.

Child care advocates say the grants allowed many parents to get jobs. Marney Toole is the family services coordinator for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.

“It’s a huge loss,” Ms. Toole said. “It’s really devastating. There is a very narrow margin for families who have young children. They often work so they’ll have health insurance, and it’s just about a break-even. Some people even lose a little money, just for the benefits. They need the subsidy to make it work. I’m concerned for those families.”

Deborah Jernegan is the director of the Grace Church Pre-school in Tisbury. Last year she had three children who received the subsidy enrolled in her program. She said affordable child care allowed their parents to get productive jobs.

“It relieves so much stress on a family,” Ms. Jernegan said. “It was a huge help last year. Now there won’t be any, which is going to be really sad.”

Double whammy

The loss of the federal grant money for child care adds to the financial difficulties of the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Fund, formerly called the Island Affordable Housing Fund.

Last year, the fund secured a $100,000 grant from the Hermann Foundation to fund child care for Island families. Though it was not related to the federal grant administered by Bailey Boyd Associates, the two organizations worked together to help qualified applicants secure the privately funded assistance, in cases where federal money ran out, or for West Tisbury families, who were not eligible for the federal grant.

The housing fund has about $30,000 of that grant left, but that money was frozen when the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank froze the fund’s accounts, and initiated foreclosure proceedings on property the fund owns in Oak Bluffs. The property was slated for the Bradley Square affordable housing development. That project ended when the fund could not raise private donations, leaving the fund with a $760,000 mortgage.

Fund executive director Ewell Hopkins said four child care subsidy checks bounced after the bank froze the fund’s accounts.

The financial problems sparked terse comments from the two groups this week.

Ms. Boyd sent a letter to Island families and day care providers.

“On behalf of Bailey Boyd Associates, we are deeply embarrassed for the way families and child care providers have been treated,” Ms. Boyd wrote. “We guarantee that any future collaboration with other sources of funding will be more closely monitored by us.”

In a phone conversation, Mr. Hopkins said he has talked with every family and provider affected, and is working to correct the problems.

“I find it very uncharacteristic of her to take that kind of shot at us,” Mr. Hopkins said.

The fund has already covered two of the bounced checks, and expects to cover the other two shortly, according to Mr. Hopkins. The fund has hired an attorney in an attempt to gain access to the child care funds frozen by the bank.