Investigation of Federal Grants Awarded to ACORN from the Corporation for National & Community Service
On May 1, 2009, Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS), asking for documents on grants given to ACORN. CNCS handles the programs and paperwork for national grants, including AmeriCorps grants. On June 1, 2009, CNCS produced documents.
The documents revealed that ACORN Housing, ACORN’s sister organization, is ineligible for grants because of its abuse of an AmeriCorps grant:
“ACORN Housing, an affiliate of ACORN was funded by CNCS in 1994/1995. ACORN Housing was accused of using the funds for protests…Following an issuance of subpoenas by CNS’s Inspector General, CNS and ACORN Housing agreed to stop the AmeriCorps grant. CNCS later recovered more than $16,000 of funds that were improperly spent.” (page 4)
While ACORN’s main advocacy group has not received funding since 1997, other affiliates still receive grant money from CNCS. Among the documents obtained from CNCS is an email listing a grant given to Detroit ACORN. Given the massive number of affiliates ACORN has (estimates are anywhere from 150 to over 300 affiliates), there are almost certainly other grants being awarded to them.
ACORN may also benefit from CNCS grants by partnering or working under other groups. A member of CNCS confirmed in an email that “a small number of individuals served at ACORN sites through the Education Award Program in the past few years, as a site of American Humanics” (page 5). There is no definitive information on how prevalent this occurrence is, or how much money goes to these grants.
Due to ACORN Housing’s violation, the AmeriCorps grant program no longer provides any funding to ACORN, according to an email from AmeriCorp’s Deputy Director Lois Nembhard. “[State] and [National] hasn’t funded ACORN directly since before my time here.” (page 29) However, Nembhard acknowledged that she was unsure if ACORN was receiving funding through its affiliates and subgroups. Affiliates of ACORN still have other grants through CNCS, including Detroit ACORN, which has an open National Direct grant.
Below are excerpts shedding further light on ACORN and its eligibility for funding under AmeriCorps and other grant laws through CNCS.
Email from Adam Briddell, Senate HELP Committee:
“Can you send me some bullets/facts on how/why ACORN isn’t/can’t get national service dollars? Can’t believe this has blown up…” (page 11)
Response from Frank Trinity, Counsel for CNCS
- In 1995, the first year of the AmeriCorps program, ACORN Housing – a separate organization from ACORN – received a grant to provide housing counseling to low-income individuals.
- Based on information provided by the Corporation’s Inspector General that the two organizations had not maintained appropriate separation, the Corporation suspended the grant.
- Thereafter, the grant was terminated and ACORN repaid the Federal government were unallowable costs (sic).” (page 13)
Trinity also provided a “Summary and Chronology of Events Related to ACORN Housing’s AmeriCorps Grant” (pages 17, 18).
To follow up on the information produced, Judicial Watch submitted another Freedom of Information Act requesting the following:
- All documents concerning ACORN Housing and misconduct/violation of grant stipulations.
- All documents concerning CNCS’s investigation of ACORN Housing.
- All audit reports of ACORN Housing Corporation.
This request was sent on July 28, 2009.