By Grant Rawdin
Recent reports in The Inquirer have mischaracterized the Urban Affairs Coalition's handling of state grants and discounted the valuable work we do in the interests of more than 150,000 low-income Philadelphians every year. The articles were based on a confidential report, commissioned by commonwealth officials and leaked to the newspaper, that calls into question a small fraction of the grants the coalition managed for the state Department of Community and Economic Development. Despite the coalition's repeated requests to the commonwealth and an Inquirer editorial urging that the report be released, we have never seen it and therefore can't respond directly to it.
For 43 years, the Philadelphia-based, nonprofit Urban Affairs Coalition has been home to numerous programs aimed at the well-being of our most disenfranchised residents and neighborhoods, reflecting our motto, "Driving change from the ground up." From jobs programs to entrepreneurship training, from community development to free tax preparation, our existence has been defined by efforts to empower those with the least power and help them climb the economic ladder.
The coalition is an open, transparent organization. It has provided governments with a trustworthy, professional vehicle to support local efforts and leaders in lifting up their communities. And we have always believed that governments and taxpayers have the right to know how public dollars are spent.
Since 1999, the coalition has managed more than $390 million in grants from a variety of sources, including city, state, and federal government and philanthropic institutions. That includes more than $28 million in Department of Community and Economic Development funds, which constituted 6 percent of our total funding. The grants in question - for a Delaware County nursing home - constitute a small share of the money we have managed over a fairly long period.
In more than two decades of work with the DCED, the coalition cooperated fully with its policies and procedures as a matter of standard practice and effective grant management. We met with the department's leadership annually to ensure that we were following its rules. The DCED grants managed by the coalition are audited by a reputable independent firm and were submitted to the agency for approval with no issues prior to this administration. The coalition's staff and auditors had no reason to believe that any of the activities performed under the grants were not in keeping with standard policies and procedures.
Funders often ask the coalition to take on projects because of our ability to work with a range of entities and manage grants effectively. We have every expectation that such projects have been fully vetted.
We have given the commonwealth all the information it has requested and more, and we will continue to do so. But it appears that its confidential report was written before some substantive documentation was submitted to the commonwealth. So conclusions based on the report may be based on incomplete information.
We are confident in our management of these grants and eager to address any aspect of it. In order to do that, however, we are asking that the audit report and all other relevant documents be released.