Sarah's Friends

Because of significant cuts to its grant funding, Sarah’s Friends is seeking financial assistance from the county’s American Rescue Plan funds. Representatives of Sarah’s Friends and Shalom Counseling & Mediation — both Bryan-based nonprofits serving Williams County — made their requests during the county commissioners’ regular meeting Monday.

Two new requests for funding from the county’s anticipated share of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) brings the total requests to nearly $1 million to date.

Representatives from Sarah’s Friends and Shalom Counseling & Mediation Center requested a total of $276,000 over the next two years during the Williams County Commissioners’ regular meeting on Monday.

Both non-profit agencies are facing large cuts to their annual budgets through cuts at the federal level to the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding stream, according to Katie Shaffer, with Sarah’s Friends.

Sarah’s Friends, based in Bryan, provides advocacy for survivors of crime, most often those who have experienced domestic violence, which Shaffer said has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying lockdown.

“Our numbers are increasing. Domestic violence increased and we need the money to support that. And at the same time that these numbers are increasing, our main VOCA grant, which is the federal grant that comes through the state, has been dwindling. I know at Sarah’s Friends we have (had) a 72% reduction over the last three grant cycles,” Shaffer told commissioners.

VOCA funding adjustments currently are being considered by the U.S. Senate, but they have not been approved yet. And even if they are, it will take several years to get Sarah’s Friends back to stability, she said.

Shaffer requested $50,000 from the county for each of the next two years, beginning in 2022.

Keith Short, with Shalom, said his non-profit agency, also based in Bryan, has had its grant funding cut from $158,000 in 2019-2020 to $106,000 in 2020-21. Shalom is now looking at another big cut, to $69,938 next year.

Shalom provides skilled counseling and mediation services and both Short and Shaffer note the two agencies work closely together to provide necessary services to people who are vulnerable and in need.

Short also said demand for Shalom’s services has increased during the pandemic as funding is being cut.

“We had a high of 186 new clients in one of our program years. And currently this year we are at 107. We’ve got a few more months to go, but the pandemic has affected that, I believe. Also, we have a reduction in counselors too. We have to put people on a waiting list in order to get them in because we just can’t see them,” Short said.

“Some clients just can’t wait. Their mental health issues can’t. So, to have future cuts looming, that scares me as an advocate, so I hope that Shalom is considered for money for that because it is an important service,” he said.

He said Shalom is requesting $88,000 a year for the next two years. He said as the organization’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1, so they would need a decision on funding by then.

The requests for ARP funding Monday bring the total to nearly one dozen requests by local agencies, totaling nearly $1 million, according to an informal tally by the commissioners.

The county is in line for about $7 million in ARP funding and has banked one $3.6 million ARP payment so far, with a second similar-sized payment due within a year, commission President Brian Davis said.

Commissioners have not committed to any funding requests yet, saying they’re still trying to get confirmation of exactly how they can spend the funds.

Commissioner Terry Rummel said Monday the county hopes to have some firm direction from the federal government on how they can allocate funds by September, and commissioners are working with the county auditor now on how to accurately track ARP funding expenditures when they are released.

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