Racial Discrimination Alleged in Funding of Prince George’s Stormwater Program

Sandra Pruitt (left), executive director of the People for Change Coalition, discusses the complaint her group filed against the Prince George's County Department of the Environment for racial discrimination during a press conference in Largo on Dec. 1. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Sandra Pruitt (left), executive director of the People for Change Coalition, discusses the complaint her group filed against the Prince George's County Department of the Environment for racial discrimination during a press conference in Largo on Dec. 1. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

Prince George’s County is one of the biggest majority-Black jurisdictions in the nation, but a local group alleges those same people didn’t receive fair consideration regarding grant money for a stormwater management program.

The People for Change Coalition, a nonprofit organization that assists minority-owned businesses in the D.C. area, filed a complaint with the county’s Human Relations Commission after an application it submitted along with several others was denied this fiscal year.

The coalition held a press conference Friday in Largo outside the building where the environment department resides to discuss the complaint filed with the county’s Human Relations Commission.

Sandra Pruitt, executive director of the coalition, said one Black nonprofit, Global Health and Education Projects of Riverdale, was awarded a $50,000 grant to conduct an adopt-a-tree program for homeowners.

She said the coalition has received approvals for other projects during the Stormwater Stewardship grant program’s four-year existence, but not more Black-owned organizations must be included in the approval process.

“The majority of grants have gone to entities who are white [and located] in and outside of the county,” Pruitt said. “That is a huge concern to us because Prince George’s County is a majority Black county. We cannot reap the economic benefits from this grant fund.”

If the coalition received approval this fiscal year, it planned to assist several community organizations establish a pet waste station, which allows people pick up after their pets and dispose the refuse into a compartment to prevent runoff into streams and other waterways that contaminates fish, crabs and other water creatures people eat.

“We pay these tax dollars and can’t get poop bags?” said Pat Fletcher of Landover, whose local community group would’ve received assistance from the coalition if the grant received approval this fiscal year. “That’s a slap in the face and we need to be mad as hell. I want my poop bag.”

According to the complaint received this month, the coalition contends the county’s Department of the Environment violated the program “by denying funds to Black-led companies and nonprofit organizations and steering them away from applying in favor of White-led companies and nonprofit organizations.”

The agency disperses all grant money to the Chesapeake Bay Trust, an Annapolis-based nonprofit organization established in 1985 that seeks to improve the Chesapeake Bay region and protection of the environment statewide.

This fiscal year, 15 recipients received a total of $1.3 million for initiatives such as environmental literacy in the county school system, restore streambanks and tree planting.

Jana Davis, executive director of the trust, said about 39 applicants applied this fiscal year.

She said about 66 percent of the stewardship program’s funds go directly into minority neighborhoods and the remaining 34 percent serves the general population where people of color reside.

Davis said about 80 percent of the organizations approved for grants either reside, or have offices in the county with the other 20 percent located in the Maryland. All applications must include a statement on how the grant will serve minority communities, she said.

“We have worked on diversity for a very long time. It is in the hearts of the staff here,” Davis said. “We always look for areas to improve. At the end of the day, not everyone can get funded.”

According to the complaint, the county’s Environment Department had to submit information on the stormwater program from January 2014 to Oct. 31 to the Human Relations Commission by Monday, Dec. 4.

Because a formal complaint has been filed, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Environment declined to comment.

Michael Lyles, executive director of the commission, also declined to comment because of confidentiality laws.

In general, the average time to complete a case takes about 180 days, he said.

Meanwhile, the coalition called for Davis and Adam Ortiz, the executive director of the county’s environment department, to resign.

“We’re not just concerned about getting the projects into our communities, we [also] want people into our community to get some of the work,” Pruitt said. “To have only Black nonprofit approved? It’s telling me that the dollars are not a priority in the Black community. [Blacks] are concerned about the environment, too.”

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About William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer 376 Articles

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways:
Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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