Is East Franklin Too Rich for Government Assistance?

Armstrong County Community Development Coordinator Kathy Heilman discussed grant funding at last night’s public meeting of supervisors in East Franklin Township.

Armstrong County Community Development Coordinator Kathy Heilman was at the East Franklin Township meeting of supervisors last night to discuss grant funding.

Each year, the township has received a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). However, the problem has been identifying a qualifying use for the grant. CDBG funds are designated to serve low-income areas. Due to the affluent population within the township, most areas do not qualify for funding under federal guidelines.

“We have an eligibility and a fundability requirement with regards to CDBG funds,” Heilman explained. “We can use them for public facilities such as streets, sidewalks, sanitary sewers… To be part of the fundability side, CDBG program is to benefit low to moderate income persons.”

Kathy Heilman asked East Franklin Township supervisors for a list of projects that could qualify for grant funding by their June 28 meeting.

Heilman said East Franklin Township became an entitlement community in 2012 and has received grants in the amount of $490,000.  The township has used some of the money for assistance in providing sanitary sewer hookups, offsetting connection fees, and housing rehabilitation/repair. However, it has had problems finding projects that qualify in order to spend the money.

Heilman expects the 2018 allocation to be approximately $83,500, with $15,000 going to administrative fees to the County and the remainder of $68,500 available to East Franklin Township.

Township Secretary Debra Cornman asked about uses for the grant in fixing storm sewers.

“Fixing storm sewers in a neighborhood is an eligible project,” Heilman told Cornman. “However, we have to make sure it is a fundable project.”

A fundable project is defined by “who benefits from the project.” Residents in the area of the project would be asked to complete demographic surveys in order to establish that the income level of those who would benefit from such storm sewer repairs meet federal guidelines. Therein is the issue – while some projects are eligible, they are not fundable because the residents in that area of the township do not meet the income eligibility guidelines.

“It is difficult finding areas where we can get funding approved because people make too much money for this grant program,” Supervisor David Stewart said following the meeting.

Heilman said the other obstacle is that when surveys are sent out to residents, the residents refuse to return them because they don’t want to disclose any type of income information. Without the surveys being returned, the project cannot be considered.

In April, grants were offered to income-eligible homeowners that qualify for assistance to fix up their residence. Heilman said approximately 14 property owners applied.

East Franklin Township Resident Barry Montgomery holds up one finger to illustrate that some residents miss qualifying for grant assistance because they make $1 too much.

Township Resident Barry Montgomery complained that the income requirements were to low for many residents to qualify for assistance.

“There are people that I have talked to that (submitted their application), but because of the guidelines, were only off by a dollar,” he told Heilman. “The guidelines need to be changed.”

Heilman responded, stating that the guidelines are established by the federal government and can’t be changed on the local level.

“We had 14 persons that put in applications. So we had a lottery. The first one we pulled out was number one; the second was number two. Those housing rehab guidelines will be adopted within the next quarter, then we will start the process with the first person and make sure they are income eligible according to the federal guidelines.”

Heilman said code deficiencies must be repaired first, including radon testing. Then items such as a new roof or other structural issues can be addressed. She said it is a possibility that the first applicant could use up all of the funding for a given year, but that funding cannot be more than the value of the home itself.

Heilman has requested East Franklin supervisors to submit projects they would like to be considered by their June 28 meeting.