COMMENTARY: Delaware’s social contract in jeopardy

Delaware has a longstanding social contract where nonprofit organizations like YWCA Delaware are entrusted to serve the most vulnerable populations in order to strengthen the quality of life for the greatest number of Delawareans.

This contract carries profound impact on you, your neighbors, your children and your community and I see men and women every day whose very survival depends on it:

• One in three Delaware women are victims of sexual assault, like Darla, whose lack of a support system after being assaulted led her to long-term unemployment. Without full recovery services, Darla would likely have suffered an estimated $200,000 economic loss in her lifetime and experienced great difficulty in sustaining healthy relationships with her children, family and friends.

• Thirty percent of families, like Marcy and Jack’s, lose their homes because of predatory lenders, job loss or overwhelming medical bills. Marcy and Jack each worked three low-skilled jobs until Jack suffered a burst appendix, and this setback led to a bank foreclosure on their home. The eviction or foreclosure notices taped to the front door in your neighborhood represent one more family that is facing homelessness tonight.

Stephanie Staats

• Over 35 percent of single mothers live in poverty, and for many, domestic violence is the root cause of their instability. Ronni’s homelessness with her 5-year old son seemed to be the result of bad choices and lack of motivation, but turned out to be because she had been victimized her entire life and just needed a safe place to recover from trauma, learn job skills, develop confidence and a vision for her future to secure living-wage employment.

YWCA Delaware is an effective, outcomes-driven, transparent non-profit organization that was able to help Darla, Ronni, Marcy and Jack because of Grant-in-Aid, and other government and private contributions. Without that support, they and others would have been forgotten; left without stable housing, healthy coping behaviors or earning income through an underground economy, with their children paying the price and inheriting a compromised future. Without an honored social contract, the forgotten that you pass on your way to work, at the grocery store, when dining out, or when taking your kids to school will multiply.

The current reality is that our longstanding social contract is in jeopardy. YWCA and other nonprofits’ ability to contribute to the social good for the benefit of all is under threat.

Recent deep cuts to government funding such as Grant-in-Aid, shrinking philanthropic pools from corporations, and sharp reductions from intermediary organizations like the United Way have put our social contract at risk of default and indicates that critical services for at-risk populations are not a priority. Some have pointed to the state’s economic situation as a justification for cuts.

However, cutting nonprofits’ ability to serve will only exacerbate our economic difficulties long term, because it ensures that the people we help will never fully participate in our economy.

Effective nonprofits like YWCA that deliver services directly to at-risk populations can do so much more economically than the government or intermediary organizations. But it does cost. Non-profits’ operating expenses rise with the cost of living as it does for any other business. In the for-profit sector this often leads to increased prices for goods and services; expansion can be supported with state economic development funds and limited accountability. Nonprofits do not have the same latitudes.

Typical responses to protests against funding cuts to non-profits include: raise more money from individuals, cut more expenses, charge clients for your services, collaborate with other non-profits. I assure you that YWCA Delaware and others have been doing all these things since at least the Great Recession of 2008, but there is only so far we can go without increased funding — or even flat funding — before significant numbers of vulnerable people are left behind and forgotten.

YWCA Delaware and other impact driven nonprofits take no issue with accountability, transparency and providing evidence of value. We have been operating in a period of austerity for at least the past decade and any low-hanging fruit has been plucked. We work very hard to garner support from individuals, the public and private sectors and invest it wisely in programs that have proven impact on lives that would otherwise be lost in the system.

If you still have questions about the value nonprofits bring to society, I encourage you to learn more about the work YWCA Delaware and others are doing in your community. Visit Guidestar.org to confirm we are good stewards of charitable investments, and that we are holding up our end of the contract.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stephanie Staats is YWCA Delaware chief executive officer.

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