JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Joined by dozens of children, Bishop Joseph McGauley asked members of Johnstown City Council and the city administration on Wednesday why Jefferson Memorial Church, where he is the pastor, was denied grant dollars through American Rescue Plan programs established by the municipality.
Johnstown set up numerous plans for the more than $30 million in federal funding it received for COVID-19 pandemic relief.
Jefferson Memorial Church originally applied for $750,000, through three separate $250,000 grant requests, to deal with food insecurity, childcare and community improvement. The goal was to purchase a new building in the Moxham neighborhood and expand the church’s Destiny’s Outreach after-school program meant to improve children’s lives, including by providing food to them.
All three were rejected using a scoring system that was created by city administrators.
A fourth application – for $25,000 – to a program designed to help nonprofits that suffered financial losses during the pandemic was also rejected.
“We are here just to find out why,” McGauley said during an interview after he addressed City Council during its regular monthly meeting.
“We need help. We’re in such debt, man, right now. We fed all through the COVID while everything was shut down,” McGauley, who left right after speaking during courtesy of the floor, said during his interview.
All three of the $250,000 applications scored below the scoring system’s threshold for acquiring funds.
City Manager Ethan Imhoff said there were concerns about the “sustainability of the project,” which lacked other significant funding. Eighteen applications to the program were rejected during the process, including from Johnstown Learning Center, Easterseals Western and Central Pennsylvania, and Community Action Partnership of Cambria County. Twenty-five were approved.
Twenty-two out of 45 applications were rejected for funding through the separate program from which Jefferson Memorial Church requested $25,000. Imhoff said the church’s application to that program was incomplete.
“This wasn’t the only project that didn’t make the cut,” Imhoff said. “We had several projects from other churches and other organizations that serve the children that did not make the cut.”
McGauley accused several city administrators of allegedly lying to him by saying his organization would receive funding, only to be eventually denied.
He also suggested that, if certain council members had put in a good word, his church would have received funding.
One of those council members, the Rev. Sylvia King, took umbrage to that implication, saying she “didn’t know anything about anybody who put in any application with the city.”
“I didn’t appreciate the spectacle, the bullying and the intimidation,” King added.
McGauley took exception to Alternative Community Resource Program, a nonprofit led by Mayor Frank Janakovic, getting $156,436 through the grant process.
“How in the world does the mayor and his company get $150,000?” McGauley asked. “We feed kids and we didn’t even get a slice of bread. Something’s wrong. Something’s wrong.”
Janakovic denied influencing the grant-awarding process.
“City Council, 100%, was keeping politics out of this,” he said. “It was given 100% to city administration to look at those grants. None of us were involved in any way, shape or form with those, and that was intentional.”
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