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Prince George’s gives funds to nonprofits that are behind on state paperwork

The office of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) awarded taxpayer dollars to 21 nonprofits that had not filed required paperwork with the state.
The office of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) awarded taxpayer dollars to 21 nonprofits that had not filed required paperwork with the state. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

More than a dozen nonprofits that received grants this year from the office of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III had not filed required paperwork with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation as of Friday afternoon, prompting criticism of how the Baker administration oversees those funds.

Twenty-one organizations that received taxpayer dollars through the county’s $1.4 million Community Partnership Grant program were not in good standing with the state taxation office as recently as last week, records show.

But several subsequently filed their paperwork, following reports by NBC4 and other news organizations about the situation.

Organizations that are “not in good standing” with the state taxation office for about 18 months must go through a forfeiture process, meaning they are not legally allowed to operate in the state, said office spokeswoman Fallon Patton.

Sandra Pruitt, executive director of the People for Change Coalition, a membership organization that helps nonprofits build networks and gain resources, said the situation in Prince George’s was “just one example” of the need to have an entity separate from county government administer the county grants.

Last year, Training Grounds Inc., an organization whose status as a 501(c)(3) was revoked by the IRS in 2016 and reinstated one year later, received $20,000 through the Community Partnership Grant, according to the IRS database. The year before, the organization — which says it assists youths with leadership and career development — was awarded $25,000.

“We need to take the politics out of the process . . . we need a fair and equitable process, so that good organizations are getting local dollars,” said Pruitt, whose organization received funds from the county in 2016 and 2017 but was denied funding this year.

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Thomas Himler, Baker’s budget chief, said nonprofits are carefully vetted by county staff and all the winners were in good standing during the application process, which he said stretches from fall into early spring.

Himler said the staff did not check the tax-office status of nonprofits after April 15, which is when their annual paperwork is due.

Baker’s office publicly announced the 120 grant winners July 19, and applicants were notified several weeks earlier.

Baker (D) said in the July press release that he was “proud to announce this year’s recipients,” who provide “community-based programs and valuable services.” Himler described the application process as “very competitive,” with hundreds of organizations vying for funds.

He said county staff members are “looking at the process” and considering whether applicants’ status should be checked again following April 15 and before the grants are announced.

Patton, the tax office spokeswoman, said that of the nearly 400,000 entities registered in Maryland, tens of thousands become “not in good standing” every year for failing to file their annual reports.

Many are then restored to good standing after submitting their paperwork.

Himler said organizations that are denied funding can come to the county to learn what they can do differently in the next application cycle.

But Pruitt said the county should more clearly articulate its priorities and create a point system to ensure that organizations can see where they fall short.

She also raised concerns about the number of nonprofits based outside the county — including large groups like United Way of the National Capital Area and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington — that were awarded funds through the grant program, which she said should be used to focus on smaller, local nonprofits.

John Erzen, a spokesman for State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, who is the Democratic nominee for county executive, said Alsobrooks is “aware of the concerns and issues around the grant process, and we are going to take a look at it to see what we can do to address the concerns.”

“We want to make sure everyone is being treated fairly,” Erzen said.