Aug. 14, 2006 – Senators gave their stamp of approval to four federal grant applications that came up for consideration during Monday's Finance Committee meeting.
According to Clement Magras, federal grants manager for the Office of Management and Budget, the Finance Committee plays an important role in the grants process, and must hear which grants are being applied for locally, along with how the funds will be spent.
While the committee can chose not to approve a grant, it can also recommend to the federal government whether or not a grant award should be given to a local agency, organization or department, Magras said.
This was not a problem during Monday's meeting, however, as senators sped through a quick two-hour meeting with few questions and much praise for testifiers who came to defend their federal grant applications. Magras said OMB supported the grants and recommended to senators that they all be approved.
Testifying during the meeting were representatives from the University of the Virgin Islands, the Bureau of Economic Research (BER), the Department of Human Services and the Virgin Islands Parents Uniting Schools and Homes (VIPUSH).
The university is applying for a Family and Community Violence Prevention Program grant through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, while BER has already received an Economic Development Authority Area Planning grant through the U.S. Department of Commerce. The Department of Human Services is applying for a Head Start Full Year and Training Grant through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and VIPUSH is applying for Parent Assistance Centers Grant through the U.S. Department of Education.
According to Dr. LaVerne Ragster, UVI's president, the $750,000 grant will make money available for UVI's Family Life Empowerment Program, an initiative for at-risk children attending the Gladys Abraham Elementary School on St. Thomas. Ragster said the program will put together activities for 35 children enrolled in the third and fourth grades, and will also help the Family Youth Center generate statistics on how the students are responding to the program. "This will also provide the groundwork for other programs set up in the community for at-risk students," she said.
Carmen Rogers-Green, who will be spearheading the program, added that the grant would replace funds used for a similar initiative implemented at the Family Youth Center over the past six years. "We actually wanted these funds to replace what we were getting for the other program, but since this grant came with different requirements, we had to implement some new things," she said.
For example, the previous program–also for students at Gladys Abraham–worked with children from grades three to six. "However, this grant requires that we work with third- and fourth-graders who will remain in the program for three years–until the end of the grant cycle," she said.
Ragster said the three-year program would allow students to develop various skills. "It acknowledges the fact that social change for children is a very slow process, one that will take a certain amount of time."
She explained that the grant will give the center approximately $250,000 a year for the next three years.
A grant award of approximately $7.3 million would similarly allow the Department of Human Services to provide a wide range of services to children living in low-income households, according to Ferryneisa H. Benjamin, the department's assistant commissioner.
Benjamin explained that the grant award, which is received annually, would significantly contribute to the operations of the local Head Start Program, which provides 3- and 4-year-olds with health, nutrition and social services.
"This money is 80 percent of Head Start's budget, and contributes to salaries, contractual services, books and programs," she said, adding that the funds are awarded based on the program's performance throughout the year.
"There is a federal review of our Head Start program conducted every three years," she said. "And a decision is made, based on certain performance standards, whether we qualify for funds or not. We could be totally de-funded if we don't meet these standards."
In other news, senators also approved grants presented by the BER and VIPUSH, an agency that provides services to parents, residents, school personnel and other entities committed to implementing the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
According to Sandra Gerard-Phaire, program director for VIPUSH, the grant will be channeled locally through the Inter-Island Parent Coalition for Change, the "fiduciary agent" for VIPUSH. The grant award, which will be distributed to VIPUSH over a five-year period, totals almost $2.4 million.
BER Director Lauritz Mills said her agency has already received its grant, which totals $52,000. She explained the grant would fund supplies, travel expenses and one position within BER – a staff specialist who plays a role on the government's Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Committee.
Mills said the committee is responsible for putting in place an economic plan for the territory that will focus on development projects, jobs creation and promoting economic growth.
Present during Monday's meeting were Sens. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste and Neville James.
Sens. Roosevelt C. David and Usie R. Richards were absent.
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