The city of La Crosse is looking to a local group to assist with distributing nearly $2 million in COVID relief to nonprofits, the first wave of funding it’s handing out to the community from the American Rescue Plan Act.
If the contract is approved by the La Crosse Common Council next Thursday, the La Crosse Community Foundation will help manage and evaluate applications for grants submitted by nonprofits in the coming months.
In August, officials released up to 10% of the city’s $21,990,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act to be “immediately disbursed” to agencies in need.
This contract between the city and the Community Foundation is for $2 million, just shy of the 10%, though the group will be paid $60,000 of the sum for its work, leaving $1,940,000 to be disbursed.
The remaining $199,000 of the 10% has yet to be allocated, city planner Andrea Trane told the Tribune.
The city said it tapped the Community Foundation to assist because of its experience with grants, including for COVID relief, and its connection with nonprofits in the area.
“It’s something that I’ve been talking about for the last three or four months of trying to get this first dollar amount out to the community and the La Crosse Community Foundation is very well positioned and experienced in doing just that,” Mayor Mitch Reynolds told the Finance & Personnel Committee Thursday night.
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“They were a great fit for what we were looking to do,” Trane said.
When the city issued a series of small business relief grants at the beginning of the pandemic, Trane said staff within the Planning Department was able to work full time on applications and distributing the funds as most of its other work was put on pause. But now that things are returning to normal, the city needed to outsource this work.
There is already a place online where individuals and nonprofits can submit requests for relief, but the city said it had only received a “handful” so far, and that after this new contract is approved the process will be polished.
Officials asked a lot of questions about the process Thursday, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s before approving the contract.
Council member Rebecca Schwarz said she was appreciative of the “deep care” officials were showing for the “once-in-a-generation” funds.
There was some discussion about public outreach, and several council members requested that the news of the grants be spread far and wide.
“That is fully our intention, is to make this as public as possible. We’re going to shout this from the mountain tops,” Reynolds said. “We’re going to make this as public as possible.”
According to the contract between the city and the Community Foundation, La Crosse nonprofits that are eligible for the funding can use it for public health, economic recovery, services to disproportionately impacted communities and additional pay for staff.
Each application for the grants will be reviewed by an independent committee made up of up to six volunteers from the Community Foundation and up to three volunteers from the city. That group will make recommendations on awards, and the city will have the final decision.
Awards are expected to be given in the next two to three months, the city said, and after that, recipients must spend the grant money by Dec. 31, 2026, returning any leftover funds to the city at that time.