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Anxiety over Direct Access grants continues

Arts, culture, sports non-profits should find out if they’ll receive gaming money within two weeks

One week after the provincial government announced it was unfreezing Direct Access gaming grants, many Whistler community groups remain in the dark about whether they will receive money this year.

At press time this week, no one Pique Newsmagazine talked to had received an indication from the government about how much money they can expect to receive this year.

"I haven't heard anything yet, and I wouldn't expect to," said Nigel Loring with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club.

"There are probably 40 or 50 applications that are designated as 'in process' at this point in time. As I understand it, there is a pecking order. They go through them in chronological order... September is when I feel they should be addressing ours."

Doti Niedermayer with the Whistler Arts Council added everything she knows about the program she has heard through the news.

"Generally there isn't a lot of direct contact with the gaming grants," said Niedermayer. "This is one of those granting programs where there isn't a lot of back and forth... Generally you do find out by mail."

On Wednesday, Aug. 19, the B.C. Ministry of Housing and Social Development announced the funds crucial to many non-profit groups had been unfrozen. But Minister Rich Coleman cautioned that some community groups will not get as much funding as they ask for and some groups will not get any funding.

Five days later, on Aug. 24, a press release from the ministry stated that "demand for the community gaming grants significantly exceeds the available funding" and that the province will give priority to certain programs.

Specifically the ministry said programs that support low income and disabled British Columbians; provide food, shelter and support for individuals at risk; support community health services; or fund nutritional programs for underprivileged children will get preference.

Also, public safety programs, community education programs like daycares and preschools, a limited number of arts and culture activities and public community facilities will get preference.

"We are holding our breath, but at least we'll known in two weeks," said Jehanne Burns with the Whistler Museum and Archives Society, who last week said without the grant funds literally all of the museum's programs would come to an end. "It is better than finding out in January, and at least this way we'll know even if it is the worst case scenario."

Each year, the Direct Access program redirects money from the province's gaming and lottery revenue and provides up to $100,000 in funds to local non-profit organizations, or up to $250,000 to province-wide non-profits.

So far, the government has shelled out about $53 million gaming grants this year. Last year, slightly more than $156 million was distributed.

In Whistler, about a dozen community groups have received the provincial grant program over the past few years, including the schools' Parent Advisory Councils (PACs).

Cathy Jewett, chair of the District PAC for the Sea to Sky School District, said the gaming grants make up a large chunk of the schools' "frill funding" - money that pays for things like computers, desks, textbooks, library books, team uniforms, gym equipment and basketballs.

"That is why losing the gaming funds could have a really big effect," she said. "We have to keep asking our MLAs and keep impressing upon them the importance of maintaining the education budget and maintaining funding to PACs."

Different groups receive the gaming grants at different times of the year and PACs will find out about their money Nov. 30.

Meanwhile, arts, culture and sports non-profit groups should receive an update on their funding grants through Direct Access within the next two weeks.