Food bank, city feud over documentation of COVID relief funds

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The city of El Paso and the region’s only food bank are arguing over allegations the nonprofit violated federal reporting requirements after receiving coronavirus relief funds from the city in 2020.

Officials on both sides say they are determined to reach a resolution, but it is unclear when a settlement will be reached or what the terms might look like.

El Paso City Council voted Thursday night to notify El Pasoans Fighting Hunger that the nonprofit had failed to honor its agreement to keep required documents in exchange for $ 3.7 million in relief funds. COVID-19 in 2020. The city said the nonprofit must document the race, ethnicity and household income for each customer served and verify the number of people served by the food bank, in order to meet federal standards.

The council resolution ordered the city manager and staff to start negotiations for a settlement of the deal.

In a press conference Thursday morning, Nicole Ferrini, the city’s head of resilience, said the “non-compliance” with the food bank threatened the city’s position with the federal government and, if it continues , jeopardizes the additional federal funds given to the city. Ferrini said the issue of non-compliance was first raised in May 2021 and was an “ongoing discussion.”

When asked if the city would require the food bank to repay funding for settlement negotiations, Ferrini said, “It’s a possibility. However, this is not the outcome we would prefer to seek. “

Ferrini said an additional $ 1.5 million municipal funding contract to build a kitchen at the food bank remains “on hold” until a settlement is found.

Nicole Ferrini, head of resilience for the city of El Paso, spoke at a press conference on Thursday regarding a dispute with the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger food bank. (Danielle Prokop / El Paso Matters)

In a statement, the food bank challenged the town’s position, saying El Pasoans Fighting Hunger was open with the town and working to find a solution.

“We are very disappointed and will continue to work with the city to find a solution,” Marty Otero, the food bank’s communications director, said in an emailed statement. “The format of the files is compliant. We followed written and verbal advice. The city has been asked to examine documents and records.

El Pasoans Fighting Hunger will hold its own press conference Thursday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., staff said.

El Paso’s only food bank has faced volunteer and staff shortages threatening its programs, as demand has skyrocketed.

In May 2020, the city received $ 119 million in federal funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). This used This money to fund testing sites, housing assistance and other programs during the pandemic. Ferrini said it was the city’s responsibility to ensure funds were tracked according to federal standards.

“We worked with [El Pasoans Fighting Hunger] and offered them training on how to do it, ”Ferrini said. “We’ve even offered them additional support, if they choose to take it, to document whatever is required. “

Ferrini said El Pasoans Fighting Hunger was the only program out of 96 others that did not produce the documents required to retain this funding.

“We never saw the documentation,” Ferrini said.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Disclaimer: El Paso Matters CEO Robert Moore is a board member of the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank. Moore was not involved in the reporting or editing of this story.

Cover photo: An employee of the El Paso Community Foundation’s Get Shift Done program selects products for food packaging at El Pasoans Fighting Hunger headquarters in May 2020 (Corrie Boudreaux / El Paso Matters)


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