Nonprofits fret over state funding cuts

DOVER — Many Delaware nonprofits are being pressed by a decrease in state funding.

Some are reaching their limits, raising questions about what will happen should they not receive additional dollars in 2018.

Every year, the General Assembly directly allocates tens of millions in state government funding to nonprofits through what is known as grant-in-aid. That money helps fire companies respond to emergencies, senior centers assist older Delawareans, community groups provide services and more, the nonprofits officers and volunteers say.

In the fiscal year ended June 30, grant-in-aid totaled $45.9 million. This year? It’s $37.2 million — a decrease of 20 percent.

The funding cut, nonprofit leaders complain, greatly impacts their bottom line and ability to help Delawareans.

Several Kent County senior centers are cutting back in the form of fewer hours and raising prices.

Bill Olechny packing his car with meals to be delivered in the Dover area (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

The Frederica Senior Center, previously open from 7 to 3 Monday to Thursday and 7 to 2 on Friday, is now open from 8 to 2 Monday through Friday. It is also raising membership fees from $20 to $25 and ending breakfast offerings.

The Milford Senior Center, which receives 93 percent of its funding from government grant-in-aid, is shutting its doors on Monday to keep costs down.

“You just can’t absorb those kind of hits,” said Kenneth Bock, executive director of CHEER, an organization that helps seniors in Sussex County.

CHEER is getting about $793,000 this year, down from $991,000 in the previous year. That money, Mr. Bock said, is vital to serving seniors. Like many organizations that aid elderly citizens, CHEER helps deliver meals, provide rides, assist seniors around the house and offer educational programs.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 17 percent of Delaware residents are 65 or older. In Sussex County, that number is 26 percent.

The Modern Maturity Center is planning to raise fees to offset the decreased state funding, according to President and CEO Carolyn Fredricks. She said a one-year membership fee will increase from $15 to $20. The nonprofit is hoping increased fundraising efforts can close the gap.

Members are understanding about the higher costs being passed on to them, she said.

Ray Malenfant among volunteers who participated in the Meals on Wheels program at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover Friday (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

One of the center’s most important services is delivering about 1,100 to 1,200 meals a day through Meals on Wheels, Ms. Fredricks said. The program helps feed needy seniors in Kent, and about half the recipients live alone.

“We are their contact,” she said. “They don’t live with family and if that meal went away, where would they go?”

Senior centers are not the only places affected.

Warren Jones, executive manager of the Delaware Volunteer Firefighter’s Association, said most of the state’s dozens of volunteer fire companies are “severely” impacted by grant-in-aid.

Many companies will have to dip into their savings accounts and may have to forego purchasing new equipment, he said.

In all, $4.71 million was allocated to fire companies this fiscal year, a $1.18 million reduction.

Brian Winslow, executive director of the Delaware Nature Society, said the loss of $26,000 could impact planned construction at Abbott’s Mill Nature Center.

Sheila Bravo, president and CEO of the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement, said she expects that in the immediate future nonprofits will be unable to expand services and will have to cut back on spending. That spending could come in the form of less professional development for employees or even a decrease in hours and programs offered.

Gov. John Carney said he wasn’t thrilled with reducing grant-in-aid but “[t]he feedback that I’ve been getting from a lot of the nonprofits is that they appreciate the fact that it wasn’t more.”

Past and future cuts

For several days at the end of June and beginning of July, nonprofits were worried they would get nothing.

The Joint Finance Committee axed grant-in-aid funding June 28, allowing lawmakers to balance the budget. Democrats and Republicans continued to talk about ways to find money, with Democrats hoping to pressure members of the GOP minority into voting for tax hikes to restore some funding. However, Republicans refused to bend and the legislature entered the new fiscal year without a budget deal.

Nonprofits held multiple rallies at Legislative Hall in the final days, attempting to persuade lawmakers to find a way to keep giving them the money.

In the end the General Assembly reached a compromise, covering grant-in-aid to the tune of 80 percent of the prior fiscal year.

Ms. Fredricks, who described feeling like “a pawn” caught up in party politics, said elimination of grant-in-aid “basically blew me out of the water.” While she welcomed the restoration, she said the 20 percent cut was greater than anticipated.

That cut represents a loss of $100,000 for the Modern Maturity Center.

Others were also surprised by the 20 percent hit: Ms. Bravo anticipated a cut of no more than 10 percent, and Daphne Bumbrey, executive director of the Milford Senior Center, said she felt “shock and a little bit of worry” upon learning of the budget deal.

Grant-in-aid isn’t the only state money going to not-for-profits either: Ms. Bravo said many state agencies contract with nonprofits to deliver services.

“When a state agency gets a reduction in spending, some of that may pass through to the nonprofit community,” Ms. Bravo said.

Nonprofit leaders fear next year could be more of the same.

Lawmakers and the governor have cautioned a structural budget solution remains elusive and will likely result in another shortfall come spring.

Grant-in-aid funding had been stagnant for several years before this budget, further complicating issues for not-for-profit groups now tasked with dealing with the cut.

“Those kind of belt-tightening measures that you would think of, many of those have been in place for the past several years,” Mr. Bock said.

Several people complained that state decision-makers do not see the full benefit nonprofits bring.

“I don’t think they seem to understand what we do for the seniors,” Debbie Brown, director the Mamie A. Warren Senior Center in Smyrna, said. “It’s not just for the seniors but for the community itself.”

Others said should nonprofits be unable to help people, that task would likely then fall to the state — probably at a greater monetary cost.

“We can provide that whole menu of services to help people stay in their homes, to stay actively engaged in their community, to live a longer and healthier lifestyle,” Mr. Bock insisted.

Because not-for-profits can often rely on volunteers, they can keep the cost of labor low. The organizations are also able to help treat minor issues, such as keeping seniors healthy, before they have a chance to become much greater problems, advocates said.

Mr. Bock claimed state government saves more than $100,000 for every person kept out of a nursing home for a year and noted CHEER assisted about 6,500 people last year.

Ms. Bravo had a similar sentiment.

“It’s almost like a good business decision to invest in the nonprofit sector,” she said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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