Pork Friday: Lawmakers give grants but are unwilling to explain them

Elected officials, grant recipients, are silent on the taxpayer funds.

Select nonprofit organizations won big in the 2023 state budget.

Dozens of organizations were awarded tens of millions in taxpayer dollars, with legislators offering no clear parameters for granting the money. And when CapCon asked members of the Senate Appropriations Committee about the process of determining who got grants and for how much, they did not respond.

Requests for the grants, often labeled as district pork projects, typically come from senators or representatives seeking money for specific recipients. Some of the organizations receiving the money do not have a proven track record of financial responsibility. Sometimes this is because they are new. Other times, they fail to file an IRS 990 form. The 990 is a financial statement required by the IRS, and available as a public record.

  • Want to search IRS 990 forms, for non-profits you know? Go here.

The lack of transparency in the state’s budget process is made more obvious when taxpayer dollars are awarded to an organization that’s hard to reach, such as The National Association of Yemeni Americans. The organization was granted $500,000, according to budget documents.

Good luck finding out what that money is for. While large amounts of money flow through the grant-giving process, recipients and lawmakers tend to avoid answering questions about why the money was granted, or what it will be used for.

The Yemeni association’s website is no longer is available, and it has posted nothing to its Facebook page since 2021. An email CapCon sent to the association came back as undeliverable.

A man reached at the association’s phone number told a CapCon reporter, “Go do your fishing in a different area.”

Non-profit Enterprise At Work, which uses the acronym NEW, received a $650,000 grant from the state budget. NEW’s total revenue in 2019 was $1.9 million, with salaries and benefits totaling just over $1 million

NEW says on its website that it can achieve its vision by “working together to dismantle systems of oppression and build resilience. By cultivating deep relationships and powerful learning communities.” It also invites the partnership of grass roots activists, nonprofits, businesses and institutions committed to social change.

NEW did not respond a request for comment.

The United Methodist Community House in Grand Rapids was listed in the 2023 budget as receiving a grant of $2 million.

In an email to CapCon, the organization says it has not been formally notified of the grant. The budget was finalized in July.

The nonprofit states on its website it has been open since 1902 and serves children, youth, adults, seniors and families in the surrounding neighborhood. It received $744,881 in government grants in 2020, according to the most recently available 990 form for it. Salaries and benefits totaled $1.6 million.

The Saint Mark Community Outreach Center in Flint received nonprofit status in 2019 but has yet to file a 990 form. It was given $500,000 from taxpayers in the latest budget. The organization says on its website that it has the best food give-away in the city. The organization’s community events, the website says, “provide help, entertainment, and resources” including suicide prevention awareness.

The nonprofit did not respond to request for comment.

The Arab Americans Civil Rights League was awarded $250,000 in the budget. It has not filed a 990 form since 2017, when its revenue total was $78,631.

Its mission is to protect the civil rights of ethnic minorities. It promotes awareness and says it dispels “negative stereotypes associated with Arab-Americans.”

The nonprofit says it will “serve as the driving force charged with uniting and channeling the constituency’s desire to effect meaningful change.”

The organization did not respond to a request for comment.

CapCon emailed a request for comment to Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. It also sent a request to committee members Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte; Sen. Jon Bumstead, R-North Muskegon; Sen. Kim LaSata, R-Niles; and Sen. John Bizon, R-Battle Creek. No senator replied.

James David Dickson contributed to this story.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.