PROVIDENCE – In light of the investigation into the Institute for International Sport and how it spent millions of dollars in state grants, House Leaders have taken measures that would provide more oversight to money doled out to nonprofits and community service agencies.
This is the first year since 2007 House leaders have taken action to look into where money for community service grants is going and how it is used.
“They thought it was time to do it,” says Spokesman Larry Berman, referring to House Speaker Gordon Fox and House Finance Chair Rep. Helio Melo. “They were thinking of doing it this year anyway, but the Institute certainly made it more relevant.”
On Feb. 23, staff sent letters to the 330 recipients of last year’s $8.3 million community service grants to ask if they want to reapply for the money and how they will spend it.
The only recipient to not receive a letter is the Institute, which has been cut off since an audit by interim-Auditor General Dennis E. Hoyle in November revealed that it could not account for a $575,000 grant intended to construct an unfinished building on the University of Rhode Island Kingston campus.
Executive Director Daniel Doyle and the nonprofit - that led the World Scholar Athlete Games and its mission to connect youth to community service- are now under the lens of the state police. Investigating the organization’s finances, state police have removed materials from its Kingston headquarters and Doyle’s home in Hartford, Conn.
At question is how the state plans to deal with a $157,500 grant given to the Institute in September while interim-Auditor General Dennis E. Hoyle was questioning the whereabouts of earlier grant money.
“We are waiting to see what the best approach to that is,” Berman says.
The new practice is also a result of the 25 percent reduction slated for community service grants in June once Governor Lincoln Chafee’s budget takes effect. These grants differ from the legislator-sponsored legislative grants in that they are budgeted yearly.
“Instead of a 25 percent cut across the board, [the nonprofits] are coming in and explaining what they are doing with the money,” Berman states.
The organizations will explain how they intend to use the money during hearings held by the General Assembly in April – a practice that has not been done in five years.
Grant recipients had until March 15 to respond, but only 292 indicated they would like the money that has been renewed for them without question year after year. State leaders found seven agencies are no longer in existence.
One of the 38 agencies who did not request money is the Narragansett Senior Center.
President of the senior center Don Slonim explains that the Board of Directors voted to not request the $3,169 grant it received in prior years because “we don’t really need the money.”
“We felt in the interest of the present economy of Rhode Island it was best to not request something we don’t need. We’re surprised there aren’t many others doing that,” Slonim adds.
Reviewing the community service funds is a process local legislators say should have been done every year.
“If these grants are to be given, they need to be vetted out more carefully especially with what has come to light with the Institute,” states Rep. Donna Walsh, D-Charlestown, South Kingstown, Westerly.
Rep. Spencer Dickinson, D-South Kingstown, who criticized House leaders in February for their lack of oversight, says their efforts are “too little, too late.”
Disappointed in Speaker Fox, Dickinson has gone as far as to suggest “it’s time for new leadership.”
South County organizations to receive state dollars include:
South Kingstown Cares - $1,444
South County Museum - $2,127
South County Hospital Cardiac Program - $21,303
South County Community Action Program - $38,679
South Kingstown Senior Center - $4,935
Southern Rhode Island Volunteers - $10,389