Editorial: DuPage County partners with foundation to help nonprofits

DuPage leaders have long talked about the importance of providing financial support to not-for-profit groups serving as a safety net for the county's poorest and most vulnerable residents.

Each year, they would set aside up to $1 million for the Human Services Grant Fund - a pool of money divvied up among dozens of food pantries, homeless shelters, counseling centers and other agencies.

But county officials at times have struggled to find money in the budget for the grants. There were years when they had to reduce the amount available. And even when DuPage fully funded the grant program, it still could not afford to give groups everything they requested.

"I always thought there was a better way to do this," DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said.

So county officials started considering the possibility of partnering with the DuPage Foundation. The Downers Grove-based foundation has provided more than $65 million in grants to nonprofits since its inception in 1986.

County officials believe that working with the foundation would improve the process to get funding to groups that need it.

Then an infusion of federal COVID-19 relief money allowed them to turn talk into action.

DuPage will get more than $179.2 million as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. The county already received roughly $89.6 million, the first of two equal installments, in May 2021.

One innovative way DuPage officials decided to use $10.6 million of the federal money was to create a nonprofit grant program administered by the foundation. The goal of the five-year program is to address food and housing insecurity, mental health and substance use issues.

"It's an opportunity to leverage significant dollars and partner with the DuPage Foundation, which has expertise in social service initiatives, reviewing grant requests and evaluating different organizations that are worthy of grant funding," Cronin said.

The county will give the foundation $10.6 million in one lump sum. Then a committee that includes county and foundation representatives will award $10 million in grants to nonprofits over five years. The remaining $600,000 will cover the administrative costs of the program.

DuPage, meanwhile, has until the end of 2026 to spend the COVID-19 relief money.

With all the economic and mental health challenges caused by the pandemic, there is a real need for the services offered by the not-for-profit groups in DuPage. Using federal dollars to help support those organizations will keep people fed and housed long after the pandemic is in the rear mirror.

Credit goes to both the county and foundation for making the idea a reality.

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