El Paso food bank blasts city’s claim it defaulted on $3.7M in Cares Act funds


UPDATE: Officials with the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger food bank blasted city leaders at a news conference Thursday afternoon, saying the organization was in full compliance with contracts tied to a $3.7 million federal grant it received under the Cares Act.

The city had claimed the non-profit group was in default because it failed to provide proper documentation for the funds. But food bank maintains it has hard copy records for every dollar spent – as required in the contracts – but the city has never made any effort to examine those documents.

Food bank CEO Susan Goodell said she was taken aback by the city’s accusations and was highly disappointed at its treatment of her organization. She indicated city officials had requested that the food back digitize its records – something not required by the contracts – but noted that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, at this point to digitize 20 million pieces of data.

The city and food bank leaders are slated to meet Friday morning to discuss the situation.

ORIGINAL REPORT: EL PASO, Texas — At a news briefing Thursday morning, city of El Paso officials said the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger food bank is in default on a $3.7 million federal grant it received under the Cares Act.

The Cares Act is a congressionally-authorized coronavirus relief fund; the city was allocated money under the act which it in turn doled out to nearly 100 sub-recipients including the food bank.

City officials said the food bank has failed to provide any of the required documentation outlining how the money was spent in compliance with federal requirements – and it has been a problem for many months now.

“We have been working for eight months and we will continue to work with the food bank during an unprecedented humanitarian crisis to bring them into compliance and it is unfortunate that they remain out of compliance with the requirements set out by the federal government,” said Nicole Ferrini, who serves as the city’s chief resilience officer and its community and human development director.

If the documentation outlining how the food assistance dollars were spent isn’t produced soon, the city indicated it will have to repay that grant money to the federal government. The food bank is the only non-profit entity not in compliance out of the 96 that received federal funding through the city.

Food bank leadership had reportedly told the city they lacked the staffing manpower to compile the needed documentation; the $3.7 million received by the food bank has already been spent providing food to those in need.

Ferrini said the city will make every effort necessary to work with the food bank in an effort to bring them into compliance on the federal requirements and avoid embarrassment for the community.

El Paso City Council voted late Wednesday to formally notify the food bank of its default and directed city staff to try and negotiate a settlement agreement with food bank officials to bring it back into step with the federal regulations.

“Again, we will continue to work with the food bank to bring them into compliance because we know and appreciate the need to address food insecurity in our community,” Ferrini told reporters at City Hall.

Following the city’s news conference, El Pasoans Fighting Hunger CEO Susan Goodell issued a statement:

“Because of the efforts of El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank, hundreds of thousands of people in our Borderland community received food assistance and were able to put food on their tables during the pandemic. The food bank continues to be committed to our mission of providing nutritious food to those who need it.

We have been very open with the city and have done everything we can to work with them. We are very disappointed and will continue to work with the city to find a resolution. Format of records are in compliance. We followed written and verbal guidance. The city was invited to review documents and files.”

Marty Otero, a spokesperson for the food bank, indicated the organization planned to hold its own news conference later Thursday to further respond to the city’s allegations.



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