Many students across Oklahoma attend Boys & Girls Clubs to participate in their numerous after-school programs. (Courtesy of The Boys & Girls Club of Oklahoma County)
By Katrina Crumbacher
and Valerie Scott
Any hopes of having mobile Boys & Girls Club experiences in rural Oklahoma by the end of the year were dashed as the legislature’s special session adjourned Friday, Oct. 14.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma was just one nonprofit of 10 that were set to receive American Rescue Plan Act funding in the latest round of pandemic relief appropriations. However, funding allocations were delayed when state lawmakers failed to reach a consensus regarding YWCA’s funding proposal.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma’s proposal requested $30.1 million to build out mobile clubs and for capital needs at their 96 locations across the state. The proposed mobile clubs would have brought specialized programs to areas where The Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma do not have a physical presence.
“There are some schools and a lot of rural towns in the state of Oklahoma that don’t, for various reasons, have access to a club experience,” said Teena Belcik, the president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County. “[We] can come with a mobile club and bring all the academic support, mentoring, sports, arts and STEM opportunities. All of those would be beneficial in many of these areas that maybe don’t have or can’t support a full-time club, but when we’re on wheels, we can go.”
Even when schools are closed, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma are open and ready to serve. However, the delay has stalled programs that were ready to hit the ground running.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County recently piloted a reading recovery program for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The program is designed to improve students’ reading level after the pandemic caused a widespread academic delay in learning.
“Everyone’s concerned about making sure all our kids succeed academically, but the pandemic didn’t do anybody any favors,” she said. “We were really excited to be able to implement that reading recovery program, but that’s part of the funding we were hoping to receive.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma and the other nine nonprofits will now have to wait until the legislature’s next session in February 2023 to receive the $95.2 million in ARPA funding left on the table:
$25 million to the YMCA to expand the outside school hours childcare needs at facilities across the state
$30 million to Oasis Fresh Market to help support strong healthy communities by increasing poverty wrap-around services at locations to mitigate food deserts
$2.8 million to the YWCA to build one and two bedroom apartments to house youth aging out of foster care
$700,000 to the Parent and Child Center of Tulsa for two intervention programs to prevent child abuse in high-risk communities and better integrate fathers who live separately from their children
$1 million to The Spring for capital improvements to a facility that serves victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and sex trafficking
$2 million to the Family Safety Center to go toward their total need of $27 million for a new multipurpose community facility aimed at providing assistance to individuals impacted by domestic violence and sexual abuse
$30.1 million to The Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma to build mobile clubs that would have specialized programming for areas where The Boys & Girls Club does not have a physical presence and for capital needs at their 96 locations
$3 million to Food on the Move to contribute toward their $11 million need for their first Food Hub, which will bring small/local farmers and independent sellers together to buy and sell products
$342,360 to Oklahoma Court Appointed Special Advocates to pay for background checks for new advocates and other related expenditures
$300,000 to the First Step Male Diversion program to fund a $1.1 million facility to house those currently going through the program
To ensure that ARPA funding is spent as proposed, the Legislature has arranged various levels of oversight. For the first time in the state’s history, Oklahoma is outsourcing a portion of the oversight responsibilities to 929 Strategies, a comprehensive consulting service that specializes in public policy advice, government relations and regulatory affairs.
“The legislature employees are working directly with 929 Strategies to make sure money is spent correctly. This group is unique because it is the first time the House and Senate have hired a consulting group to make sure we are complying with the rules,” said Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah. “The ARPA rules have changed several times, and Melissa Houston and her team at 929 Strategies will keep up with the changes.”
As mandated by the Legislature, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services will publish a weekly report of the status of all ARPA grant agreements to the Chairs of the Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding and will make them available to the public. They will also publish a quarterly report of all expenditures of ARPA funds.
“Under the authority granted by the Legislature, OMES will primarily play the role of administrator in the distribution of ARPA funds,” said Caden Cleveland, the OMES director of legislative and public affairs in an emailed statement. “By this, I mean we will be working with each entity that the Legislature and the governor have decided shall receive ARPA dollars to ensure they have the correct budgetary and legal documentation in place before receiving the dollars. Once correct documentation is in place and ARPA dollars are distributed to these entities, we will continue working with them to make sure the expenditure of the funds are all meeting federal requirements for their use.”
According to Thompson, the previous mismanagement of pandemic relief funding, via the ClassWallet fiasco, has not been a contributing factor to the oversight of this round of pandemic relief money.
ClassWallet was hired by Oklahoma officials in August 2022 to distribute $17.3 million in emergency federal educational funds. The State of Oklahoma later filed a lawsuit against ClassWallet as it failed to ensure proper money management.
During the pandemic, ClassWallet distributed funding using the Stay in School grant, which provided $6,500 in tuition assistance, and the Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet, which provided $1,500 in grants to low-income families to buy educational items.
The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch performed a combined investigation of ClassWallet in May 2022. Records show a heavy amount of funding was spent on non-educational items such as TVs, Christmas trees, barbecue grills, smartphones and video game consoles all through the Bridge the Gap program.
Suggestions on how to spend Oklahoma’s ARPA funding were submitted through an online portal. The proposals came from a wide variety of industries, such as water management, workforce development, nonprofits and more.
On March 11, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal stimulus bill to help economic recovery and public health after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The act allocated $350 billion in emergency funding to state, local, territorial and tribal governments. State governments and the District of Columbia received $195.3 billion.
Funding was sent out in two separate installments, with the exception of territories which received $4.5 billion in a single installment. Recipients must appropriate the funds by Dec. 31, 2024, and have it spent by Dec. 31, 2026.
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