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Latinos priority for $700K in one-time grants


An emotionally conflicted Madison City Council awarded $700,000 in federal relief Tuesday night to help undocumented immigrants via organizations largely serving the Latino community over a competing proposal that would have broadened the populations served by the funding.

Lamenting the lack of money to meet the needs of vulnerable immigrants, the council voted 14-6 to provide one-time grants to eight Madison nonprofits to provide direct assistance for immigrants living illegally in the United States, such as legal aid, transportation, rental assistance, food security and internet access.

“We thought that the biggest impact we could make with this way too small amount of money was what we proposed,” said council Vice President Arvina Martin, who sits on a committee that made the recipient recommendations last month. “We really felt that we could serve more people with the recommendations we put out from that committee.”

City staff initially recommended a slightly different group of eight from the 15 grant applicants to be funded out of the city’s share of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

A majority of the groups recommended by city staff serve

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Latino immigrants living in the United States illegally, but also included more nonprofits than what was ultimately approved that have experience aiding Southeast Asian, Hmong and African immigrant communities.

Supporters of the Community Services Committee’s recommendations said Latinos represent the vast majority of Mad-ison’s undocumented community, and the nonprofits selected for the grants have an established history of helping the population.

“This is a community that deserves attention and more funds,” said Karen Menendez Coller, executive director of Centro Hispano of Dane County, which would have received a grant under both proposals.

Ald. Yannette Figueroa Cole sponsored a competing proposal to award the $700,000 to the eight groups initially recommended by staff.

“The staff recommendations were more inclusive of the undocumented communities we currently have in Madison,” said Figueroa Cole, 10th District. “I’m saying provide funding for organizations that serve the Latinx community in addition to other organizations.”

Kabzuag Vaj, co-executive director of Freedom Inc., which was recommended by staff but not awarded a grant by council, said the Southeast Asian community is a population “nobody else is serving.”

According to a city chart on the grant applicants, six of the eight approved for funding are identified to primarily work with Latino immigrants. Under the staff recommendation, four of the eight predominately help Latinos.

Ald. Christian Albouras, 20th District, said the Community Services Committee went through a deliberative process of evaluating staff recommendations on Feb. 23 before coming up with its own, which included four of the same nonprofits supported by staff.

He was also critical that some nonprofits which scored high on an evaluation rubric were not included in the Community Development Division’s staff recommendations.

Yolanda Shelton-Morris, the city’s community resources manager, said staff also considered what populations nonprofits serve and how quickly they could provide aid, in making recommendations.

“The score is important, it’s not the only actor for staff in terms of funding recommendations,” she said.

While council members weren’t aligned on how to allocate the money, they agreed there is a large need to help a community disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“I know that everybody who has been involved in this conversation tonight cares deeply about the welfare of undocumented folks in the Madison area,” said Martin, 11th District. “I don’t want that to get lost.”

The nonprofits and grant amounts awarded are:

„ African Center for Community Development, $100,000

„ Catholic Multicultural Center, $50,000

„ Centro Hispano Inc., $150,000

„ Community Immigration Law Center, $100,000

„ Latino Academy for Workforce Development, $150,000

„ The Rainbow Project, $25,000

„ Rise Wisconsin, $50,000

„ Vera Court Neighborhood Center, $75,000

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