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Minnesota tribes return $1.7M in stimulus grant money
Tuesday, May 10 2011
 
Written by The Circle StaffT,
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When's the last time the recipients of a $1.7 million federal stimulus grant had second thoughts and sent funding back to Washington? That's what happened recently with a high-tech project in northern Minnesota in which a government giveaway turned into a rare government giveback. In fact, it's one of only three out of 233 broadband stimulus awards valued at $3.94 billion to turn down the federal funding, according to the U.S.  House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce.
In July 2010, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) selected a stimulus project proposal from the Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth Bands of Ojibwe to create seven new public computer centers and to renovate ten existing facilities in partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs on their northern Minnesota reservations. Yet when the tribes did the math for the $2.5 million Headwaters Tribal Community Center project, it just didn't add up. The federal stimulus grant contributed $1,722,371 toward the broadband project, while the tribes and their Boys and Girls Club partners' projected share of the project was to be $793,731‚ about a third of the total cost.
According to Leech Lake Band officials, after closer scrutiny of the project, they concluded that the final price tag for the project would be significantly more than the amount submitted in the grant application.
"The grant was written poorly," said Leech Lake Accountant Nancy Stevens. "The project would have cost more than originally thought."
How much more? Hundreds of thousands of dollars that would ultimately be billed to the Leech Lake Band, according to Stevens.
A representative from the White Earth Band of Ojibwe told the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota that they would have liked to pursue the program, but were unable to acquire another grant to cover the shortfall.
Leech Lake Band officials also attempted to revise the program's allotments, but Stevens said they were rejected by the feds.

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