Repayment would ‘force bankruptcy’

By William K. Alcorn


The Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership has mounted a multifaceted campaign to persuade the United States Department of Agriculture to review a demand for nearly $900,000 by the Ohio Department of Education.

If the state education department demand stands, MYCAP says it would be forced into bankruptcy and out of business.

The anti-poverty agency provides assistance to low-income residents through programs such as Head Start, the Women, Infants, and Children Program, Home Energy Assistance Program, rural outreach programs and senior centers, said Marilyn McDaniel, MYCAP executive director.

The ODE is demanding a refund of $879,547 in connection with two USDA-funded child- and adult-feeding programs associated with the Headstart program.

McDaniel says MYCAP cannot pay the money because the grants it receives are earmarked for specific programs, and it has no other source of revenue.

McDaniel said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack is the court of last resort for MYCAP after the Franklin County Court of Appeals and the Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals ruled they don’t have jurisdiction in the case. In its letter to Vilsack, MYCAP asked that he modify or waive the refund demanded by ODE.

The local nonprofit has said the nearly $879,547 was not misspent. The agency concedes, however, that from 2008 to 2010, it failed to comply with certain record-keeping and accounting regulations.

However, MYCAP also says that a yearlong investigation by the Ohio Department of Education cleared the local agency of any wrongdoing.

“Closing MYCAP would have a devastating effect on the Mahoning County area. Thousands of needy individuals and families receive assistance through MYCAP’s programs,” McDaniel said.

She said MYCAP acknowledges that ODE may be entitled to reimbursement of $47,351 for disallowed costs but said ODE’s refund calculation is “grossly overstated.”

“We believe the regulations give the secretary of agriculture authority to review and waive, mitigate and resolve the claim,” McDaniel said. “We understand the secretary is looking at some additional information, and we don’t know how long it will take for him to complete his review.”

In the meantime, MYCAP is trying to keep its case on the front burner here and in Washington, D.C.

McDaniel said an editorial in The Vindicator encouraging the White House to support MYCAP was a “huge boost to our efforts.”

The editorial also led MYCAP to start reaching out to its constituencies in letters, calls and emails to community leaders and the agriculture secretary and a Facebook “Keep MYCAP Alive” campaign.

The Facebook campaign, created by MYCAP information technology employees George Hulton and Clarence Williams, has been online for about a month, and nearly 600 have signed the petition to the Department of Agriculture, and generated several hundred letters and telephone calls, McDaniel said.

MYCAP is asking people to sign its Keep MYCAP Alive petition on Facebook appealing to the agriculture secretary to save the program from bankruptcy and closing.

To join MYCAP’s Facebook campaign, go to MYCAP’s home page on the Internet, click on the blue Facebook symbol at the top right, and scroll down to Keep MYCAP Alive. It is necessary to be on Facebook to interact with KeepMYCAP Alive.

“I think awareness is being raised that we are trying to get this resolved, and it has resulted in increased attention from the Ohio Department of Education,” she said.

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