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Federal funds bolster United Way coffers

Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2001

The Kenai Peninsula United Way will get a chance to play Santa with $48,706 in federal funds this year. The agency was allocated the money to distribute to organizations that offer emergency food and shelter programs in the Kenai Peninsula Borough jurisdiction.

This is the 10th year the area United Way has received this supplemental money, said Evy Gebhardt, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula United Way. An amount of money is allocated and approved each year by Congress for the national United Way agency. That lump sum of money is then distributed to individual United Way jurisdictions to expand the capacity of food and shelter programs in high-need areas around the country.

"The money means a lot," Gebhardt said. "I think it probably indicates some real need in the community. It provides emergency one-time assistance, like if somebody is evicted from their apartment in the middle of the winter -- that's what the money is there for."

The money is divided up among the United Way agencies by a national board chaired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and consisting of representatives from the Salvation Army, American Red Cross, United Jewish Communities, Catholic Charities USA, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA and United Way of America.

There are 12 United Way jurisdictions in Alaska that receive the federal money. Most jurisdiction areas are the same as census areas, like the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The amount of money each jurisdiction receives fluctuates each year, depending on the decisions made by the national board.

"The amount has gone up and down," Gebhardt said. "Last year there was $56,539 allocated to our jurisdiction because of relief for the poor fishing season."

This year a lot of money from the program went to fund relief efforts in New York City following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Towers, Gebhardt said. As a result, funding for Alaska as a whole and the peninsula in particular are down.

The money the Kenai Peninsula United Way did get will be distributed to area public and private service organizations that provide emergency food and shelter programs. To receive this money, an organization must submit an application to the Kenai Peninsula United Way by Jan. 4. Organizations need not be United Way member agencies to apply.

The United Way acts as the administrative, record-keeping agency for the program. The funds raised by the United Way are not a part of this program and United Way staff receive no extra salaries or benefits from administering the funds, Gebhardt said.

"It's a service we provide to the community," she said. "We don't have a choice. We do it as long as we're United Way."

Since the funding comes through a federal program, there are some strict requirements about how the money is distributed. But most of the red tape falls to the United Way.

"There's a lot of paper work because it's a federally funded program, and that, I think, scares some agencies away from the program," Gebhardt said. "But it's relatively painless for the agencies."

A local board made up of the Kenai Peninsula United Way, the Salvation Army, the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, Kenai Natives Association, American Red Cross, Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management and Jewish, Catholic and Protestant Church representatives recommend which applying agencies should receive funding.

To qualify for the funding, an organization must be a private voluntary nonprofit organization or unit of government, have an accounting system, practice nondiscrimination, have demonstrated the capability to deliver emergency food and or shelter programs and, if it is a private voluntary organization, it must have a voluntary board.

In past years the Kenai Peninsula United Way Borough jurisdiction has distributed emergency food and shelter funds to the Kenai Peninsula Community Care Center, the Women's Resource and Crisis Center, Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, Soldotna United Methodist Church Breakfast Program, the Salvation Army in Kenai, SeaView Community Services in Seward, Homer Food Pantry, South Peninsula Women's Services and Share the Spirit Inc.

When making its recommendations, the local board uses a points system based on how many clients the organization serves, how large its service area is and what, specifically, in terms of emergency food and shelter the organization provides.

The money allocated to each accepted organization is given out in February and must be used by the end of the year, which is never a problem, Gebhardt said.

"When I talked to agencies this year, they had spent the money by August and September," Gebhardt said. "They're looking at a lot of critical months with no funding for their programs. To me, that is an indication of some pretty strong needs in the community if agencies already spent the money that early in the season."

Gebhardt encourages any organization that thinks it may qualify for the emergency funding to contact her at the Kenai Peninsula United Way, 283-9500, for an application, and to do so as early as possible.

"The funding is available," Gebhardt said. "If (the national board) sees more and more agencies providing services, it may reflect back on the amount of money we get next year."



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