Ah, budget season. That magical time of the year when those of us not elected to a state office look to our state representatives & senators and remark:
“Um…hey guys, what’s the deal people?!? This is your job! Pass a budget please!”
Now to be fair, negotiating a state budget in this day n’ age – with as much political divide as there is – might be considered the ultimate “uphill climb.” Political rhetoric is sky-high, tensions between conservatives and progressives sometimes make the Hatfields and McCoys look like a pillow fight. But at the end of it all, the work of the people and the Commonwealth needs to be done… and very often, for those of us on the outside looking in, it appears to be yet another reason to dislike the political process.
Well here I am to add another point to the list of issues surrounding this budget impasse: Community Development & Impact.
State budget stories usually surround the challenge that occur from the state services side of the ledger. State employees and their paychecks, state parks having to close, and the forever-nervous tick of “will those state aid checks arrive” to assist those who need the support the most among us. All valid. All important.
But allow me to include one important group often missed in the discussion with huge implications and impact. The nonprofit sector.
State budget dollars that are allocated to nonprofit organizations that support social services, education, the environment, and the arts are all in limbo while the political leaders work out their compromises. But unlike many in the for-profit sector, many nonprofits’ budgets are closely connected with their state collaboration and financial allocations. So this budget debate is truly affecting these organizations disproportionately.
Now I can hear you saying, “That’s nice, DK. But this is even more of a reason to point out that organizations shouldn’t rely on government funding to keep their organizations afloat. You are proving what we often say: these groups need to fundraise on their own and not be a ‘burden’ or rely on state funding as a ‘crutch’ for their existence.”
Agreed. Fundraising needs to be a much more comprehensive and multi-scoped discipline (that BTW, I strive to assist groups in doing this… a little plug for Connect the Dots Movement here.); however, let’s also be realistic in what actually is happening when it comes to state funding and nonprofit fee-for-service. The state is working in conjunction with organizations who are built and designed to do the work of social services – needed support for citizens of the state, that the state itself could not do (could not do well or efficiently… or with direct impact for that matter!) Organizations like the YWCA York, as recently featured in a York Dispatch story, aren’t a “crutch” by taking dollars from the state budget . They are the small business collaborative choice for the Commonwealth to engage and support members of the community. It’s good business and good governing.
The problem is those dollars are needed to keep essential social services active. A homeless person is looking for shelter regardless of the PA State Democratic Caucus is meeting or not. A woman and her child are escaping a domestic violence situation and looking for immediate support and protection regardless of the PA State Republican Leadership luncheon is scheduled or not. The community is moving, and so must our political leaders.
The other problem: these are JOBS. The nonprofit sector constitutes over 10% of the private employment in America, and over 15% of the private employment in the state of Pennsylvania (Johns Hopkins University, Nonprofit Economic Data Bulletin #39, 2011).. this isn’t “charity” or “extra” we’re talking here. These are JOBS. So this isn’t just an exercise in whether one supports “the social safety net” or believes these programs are “social welfare” – we’re talking WORK. JOBS. EMPLOYMENT.
Organizations like the PA Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO) and other watchdog groups will continue to ask our leaders to negotiate and deliberate a budget compromise; however, it is us – the community – that must especially monitor and voice our need for action to happen. We say at Connect the Dots Movement that one of our favorite phrases is from President Theodore Roosevelt when he said, “Get Action.”
Right on, TR. So c’mon members of the Pennsylvania House and Senate… we need solutions. We need our services. We need our jobs.