Nonprofit groups could see 8 percent cut in state funding

 

DOVER — Hundreds of nonprofits groups are facing a cut in the funding they receive from the state, which advocates say would seriously hinder their ability to provide services.

As the legislature enters its final week, the grant-in-aid bill, which allocates funding for nonprofits, remains unfinished.

And with the state government facing a shortfall as a result of a revenue downturn last week, lawmakers are contemplating across-the-board cuts.

“Not yet decided,” Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, said Thursday. “It’d be nice if we didn’t have to, but we’re working to go either way.”

Sen. McDowell is the co-chairman of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. The panel is set to meet Tuesday to discuss grant-in-aid.

Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, recommended in January $43 million be allocated for grant-in-aid, the same total handed out this year.

JFC last year debated cutting 5 percent — about $2 million total — but ended up using one-time bank settlement money to avoid doing so. This year, that option is likely not available.

The committee has considered exempting fire companies, veterans’ groups and senior centers from cuts, although all other nonprofits would see a decrease of about 8.5 percent, according to Sen. McDowell.

That reduction, which legislators are still hoping to avoid, would add up to approximately $1.8 million.

Although he declined to discuss specifics, Sen. McDowell said “a few things that are in flux could make a difference.”

A total of $6 million has been set aside for Wilmington school redistricting. While some lawmakers have advocated putting that toward additional resources for high-poverty areas even if redistricting fails in the General Assembly, legislators might face pressure to use that for budget purposes instead.

Asked about the $6 million specifically, Sen. McDowell acknowledged it could be put toward grant-in-aid, even as he cautioned it would likely remain untouched until a vote on redistricting succeeds or falters.

“I just don’t know yet,” he said.

JFC is scheduled to convene Tuesday for grant-in-aid, but lawmakers also have Wednesday and Thursday to create a funding plan.

Many nonprofits would be affected by cuts and administrators are watching closely.

“If there’s a cut in funding, there will be a cut in either staff layoffs or … reduction in services,” said Carolyn Fredricks, president and CEO of the Modern Maturity Center in Dover.

Earlier this month, Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, advocated for keeping the Modern Maturity Center’s full funding by shifting it from grant-in-aid to a different category. The organization would avoid cuts if JFC exempts senior centers, allowing it to retain $576,886.

If reductions do occur, the Food Bank of Delaware, which received $205,620 this year, would struggle to provide its full complement of services, such as food for needy children, Patricia Beebe said.

“The fact of the matter is the services the nonprofit community offers to the state are vital services, and if we’re not able to provide those services that just leaves a large gap,” said Ms. Beebe, the president and CEO of the Food Bank.

In a similar vein, Ms. Fredricks cited Meals on Wheels as something the Modern Maturity Center runs that helps save others money.

Jennifer Saienni, a spokeswoman for Delaware Hospice, said the $177,358 the organization was given this year by the state covered most of the indigent care it provided to free for poor patients. The money also supports bereavement programs.

Ms. Saienni said hospice volunteers were urged to contact JFC members in hopes of avoiding a loss in funding.

Other legislative business

Compared to last year, the situation in Legislative Hall appears to be much more settled.

At this point in 2015, Democrats were still working to entice Republicans to vote for a proposal that would raise Division of Motor Vehicles fees to increase money for road construction.

The negotiations, which continued until a compromise was reached the night of June 30, left the budget up in the air. The exact amount of money the state would have to spend remained unsettled until the very end, something legislators swore to avoid this year.

The budget was officially introduced three days ago. While grant-in-aid and the bond bills are not solved, they should be finished before the final hours of this year’s legislative session.

In comparison to the Senate, the House does not have many major bills remaining.

“We have a lot of things out here, but nothing is earth-shattering,” said Speaker of the House Peter Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach.

Senators have yet to vote on Wilmington school redistricting, the fulcrum on which much rests. Should it be approved, legislators would still have to agree on a method to fund the initiative.

Failure would free up $6 million, and, more crucially, mean the fragmentation of the city’s schools continues for at least another year.

The Senate could still debate legislation on banning people on federal terrorist watchlists from buying guns and creating an equal protection clause in the state constitution, but the votes do not appear to be there for the two Democratic-backed measures.

Last year, lawmakers did not leave until after 5 a.m. on July 1, after a marathon stretch that started the afternoon before.

That is unlikely this time around, Rep. Schwartzkopf said, although he cautioned he did not want to “jinx it.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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