The Black Belt Community Foundation (BBCF), Hope Credit Union (HOPE) and several partners including the Alabama Power Foundation have announced the creation of a program that will give numerous Alabama cities and counties immediate access to capital for COVID-19 response needs.
State law requires cities and counties in Alabama to seek reimbursement for COVID-related expenses to access their share of a $250 million allocation provided through the federal CARES Act. This presents a challenge for many cities and counties that do not have the money to make the needed purchases up front.
The Black Belt Community Foundation COVID-19 Access Program was created to address the need of access to capital for cities and counties within Alabama’s Black Belt. The Black Belt, named for its fertile soil, cuts a swath across south-central Alabama and is home to some of the state’s poorest communities.
Under the program, HOPE will provide BBCF with a line of credit, allowing the nonprofit to make recoverable grants to cities and counties in amounts of $50,000 or less at a time for the purchase of reimbursable COVID-related items. BBCF will require confirmation from state government that the expenditures are reimbursable before the grant is made and will allow only one recoverable grant to be outstanding at a time.
The program targets 16 low-wealth counties (Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Perry, Pickens, Sumter and Wilcox) and small towns, which may not have the cash on hand to make COVID-19 response related purchases and, as a result, may delay the procurement of essential goods or services to protect local residents.
“We know that not every community has the capacity to access CARES funds made available by reimbursement. In order to qualify for help, a community must spend its funds to be reimbursed. If those funds don’t exist, then residents are at a disadvantage in the fight against COVID,” said Felecia Lucky, president of BBCF.
Kendra Key, senior vice president of Community and Economic Development for HOPE, said the program is another way for HOPE to reach underserved people and places.
“The Black Belt Community Foundation COVID-19 Access Fund represents exactly how corporations, philanthropy and the nonprofit sector should be working together to create economic opportunity and advance racial justice,” Key said. “Through this innovative partnership, small, communities of color will have access to much needed funds to quickly purchase the necessary equipment and services to navigate the pandemic and to keep their residents healthy and safe.”
Alabama Power Foundation President Myla Calhoun credits the program with serving not only as a mechanism to access capital but as a model to serve communities creatively.
“This program is the result of a collaborative effort to identify practical solutions that address community needs and provide a sustainable model for under-resourced communities to access resources,” Calhoun said. “It represents the Alabama Power Foundation’s commitment to empower nonprofits and businesses with the resources they need to create social and economic change in their communities.”
Uniontown Mayor Jamaal Hunter said the program has assured his town access to CARES funding.
“Without this, the money available to help us would just sit on the table. We don’t have enough money in our coffers to begin the work needed now and be reimbursed later. Now, we can put together our plans to be able to get the needed PPEs and begin the vital work in the community.”
Other partners working to provide program resources are Regions Foundation, The Educational Foundation of America, Altec/Styslinger Foundation, Medical Properties Trust, Protective Life Foundation, Mike and Gillian Goodrich Foundation.
BBCF has worked for 16 years in a 12-county service area in the Black Belt, providing more than $5 million in grants to support more than 450 community-led initiatives. HOPE (Hope Enterprise Corporation, Hope Credit Union and Hope Policy Institute) has generated more than $2.5 billion in financing that has benefited more than 1.5 million people in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.