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CAFI looking to reopen

With only two weeks left until the launch of Community Action for Improvement’s largest annual project, the nonprofit is stuck in funding limbo as it awaits a final signed contract and dispersal of state and federal funds. CAFI offices closed Oct. 3 and have remained closed since then, however an end does appear to be in sight, as offices are expected to reopen by Nov. 1.

“Any day now, I am waiting for them to call me and tell me the contract is done, which would put us right back on track for a November start date for the utility assistance [program],” said Jennifer Corcione, executive director of CAFI. “I’m about 99 percent sure now that Nov. 1 we will be reopening for utility assistance.”

CAFI was founded in 1966 and serves Carroll, Coweta, Heard, Meriwether and Troup counties with programs like utility assistance, weatherization, referrals for veterans benefits and food commodity boxes. The majority of these programs are made possible through federal funding that is funneled through the state in the form of reimbursement grants. 

According to Corcione, about $1 million in services are on hold until the state and federal funds become available. This $1 million the organization is waiting to receive will come in the form of a community services block grant.

“It is federal money that comes to the states in the form of community services block grants, and it is disseminated to sub-recipients of 20 action agencies in the state,” Corcione said. “CAFI is one of 20 agencies.”

Only a handful of staff members have been able to work since Oct. 3, continuing programs that have retained adequate operating funds, forcing the nonprofit to rely on local funding more than usual.

“We can’t shut down, because we are still running the weatherization program, so all the [administrative] expenses that we are still incurring — lights, salaries for people who have to be here — we have no place to get that reimbursed from until we get the contracts sorted,” said Doug Stewart, CAFI’s fiscal director. “Technically, whatever administrative expenses we incur until we get a signed contract we have to eat, which is hard.”

Corcione said that local dollars are always essential to CAFI — since they prove locals buy in to the program — but because of the funding delay, those local funds are all that is keeping the agency going, even at greatly reduced capacity. 

During the last few weeks, the handful of staff still working have been directing those in need of services usually offered by CAFI to other community agencies and working to make sure that the nonprofit can offer everything needed when it reopens.

“Our doors being closed is impacting a lot of folks,” Corcione said. “Our financial auditors proved to our board and to the community last year with our 2017 audit that we spend about 97 percent of all funding on direct services to clients. That leaves a small, small window for operational and overhead expenses. That is another area where the agency needs to be stronger. We need unrestricted funds and donations, but I believe that after 18 months of proving ourselves as an agency that some of the opportunities for funding will open up again as the community gains faith in the organization.”

Corcione took on the position of executive director 18 months ago. According to Corcione, CAFI’s utility assistance program alone will serve 5,100 families. The program is still scheduled to kick off Nov. 1, though there may be a slight delay, and applications for the program are available online. Corcione estimated that about 125 families are served through block grant funding, and CAFI’s weatherization program serves 24 to 30 households annually.

Even without funding, CAFI does have lists available of other community resources for those in need.

“We are collaborating with other partners,” Corcione said. “We constantly try to steer folks to the places we know might be able to help, but we also don’t want to overload those smaller organizations. Because of the size of the state funding that we receive, we are able to help in the thousands, unlike many agencies, so we don’t want to push that burden onto their doors, while trying to balance how to help people in the community.”

While the agency is currently waiting on funding, Corcione made it clear CAFI is not permanently closed. 

“I just want people to know that CAFI is not closed,” Corcione said. “We are closed temporarily, but it is temporary. We are fully expecting to open the doors back up. We are trying to serve programs that are running that do have signed contracts, but we are in no way or shape or form closing the doors and ending the operation.”

Anyone who needs to apply for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program should visit cafi-ga.org.