City, state halt $437K in grants for nonprofit tied to state rep.

State Rep. Anastasia Williams

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The John Hope Settlement House, chaired by state Rep. Anastasia Williams, lost more than $400,000 in funding from the state and the city of Providence on Wednesday due to alleged accounting and other issues.

WPRI.com first reported early Wednesday that the city had cancelled two federally-funded grants worth more than $137,000 for the nonprofit social service agency. Hours later, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello announced he was pulling a $300,000 grant to the group out of the proposed state budget after learning of the city’s decision.

In a letter sent to Williams on Tuesday, the city’s director of community of development outlined 15 reasons he cancelled a $110,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) award for building improvements to the John Hope Settlement House issued in 2014 and a $27,581 CDBG award for improvements to a residential property owned by the organization issued in 2015.

Among the reasons listed by director Brian Hull: payroll deficiencies; outstanding checks; lack of budget control; loans provided to an employee without a loan policy; lack of oversight and lack of grant reporting and expenditure recording; and lack of documentation for gift card purchases.

In the letter, Hull explained that the decision to cancel the awards came after the city sought an advisory opinion from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the federal agency that provides CDBG funding to municipalities across the country. HUD said an audit of John Hope revealed “numerous unresolved deficiencies” and recommended the city not release the money.

The city never released either of the grants to the organization.

In an email Wednesday, Williams said the award cancellation is “unfortunate for the approximately 800 individuals we serve on a weekly basis because the monies sought from the CDBG program was to be used to improve John Hope Settlement House’s heating and cooling systems which are currently over 40 years old, antiquated and is costing John Hope over and above what it should.”

“With a new efficient heating and cooling system the agency would realize a tremendous savings that would enable a safe haven to all we serve, especially targeting our low income population from 18 months to 82 years,” Williams, who is not paid for her role as board chairperson, wrote.

John Hope has struggled financially in recent years, prompting calls for Williams to resign from the agency’s board. Nevertheless, before Mattiello’s announcement the state budget the House of Representatives is considering Wednesday was set to include a $300,000 community service grant for the organization, one of a small number retained in the wake of the Ray Gallison scandal. If approved, the new allocation would have meant the nonprofit had received $1.15 million from the program over four years.

Williams, D-Providence, has served in the House since 1993. She has worked in the city’s planning department since 1994. Last December, she filed suit against the city for refusing to award her a $78,000 grant to purchase a two-family home on Division Street in 2012.

“Of course it’s disappointing, simply because it hurts the population of the low-income community to the max,” Williams told reporters on the State House floor Wednesday afternoon. She called Mattiello’s decision to pull the state grant, which he informed her about a short time before he told reporters, “unexpected.”

“What it’s going to do is have us tighten up our belts a lot more and still do the best to provide the services for children, families and seniors that we serve,” Williams said.

Mattiello told reporters John Hope does good work for a disadvantaged community, and said the House will reassess funding for the nonprofit during next year’s Assembly session.

Williams blamed the financial issues at John Hope on the administration that was in charge before she took over a few years ago, and said steps have been taken to fix it. Asked about those who are calling on her to resign from the board, Williams replied: “Haters!”

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

Ted Nesi contributed to this report.

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