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City boosts funds for social service grants to nonprofits

Thu., Jan. 19, 2012, midnight

Teacher Ken Jernberg talks with a student working on her GED at Crosswalk in Spokane on Wednesday. Crosswalk, which provides food, emergency shelter and other services to teenagers, is one of a handful of nonprofits that the city of Spokane still funds. (Jesse Tinsley)
Teacher Ken Jernberg talks with a student working on her GED at Crosswalk in Spokane on Wednesday. Crosswalk, which provides food, emergency shelter and other services to teenagers, is one of a handful of nonprofits that the city of Spokane still funds. (Jesse Tinsley)

Still falls short on goal of providing 1 percent of budget to human services

For more than a decade, Spokane’s political leaders have said they shared the goal of providing 1 percent of the city’s budget to social service agencies.

For more than a decade, the city hasn’t met that goal.

On Tuesday, the Spokane City Council allocated $898,000 of its $164 million 2012 general fund budget to 22 nonprofit agencies that fight homelessness, provide health care to the poor and improve nutrition. The council decided late last year to add an extra $100,000 for more grants that will be awarded in the coming weeks. Even with that money, however, the city only is spending about 0.6 percent of its general fund budget on human services.

The general fund budget is the portion financed mostly by taxes and includes fire, police, parks and library services.

Louise Chadez, a mental health counselor who proposed an initiative in 2001 to force the city to devote 3 percent of its budget to human services, calls the allocation “embarrassing.”

Chadez said she’s sympathetic to leaders who worry that increasing the human service budget would take from police and fire services, but she believes the city has to think more about the future.

“If we were dedicated to the front-end youth services, we wouldn’t need as many police,” she said.

This year, the city received 35 applications from nonprofit groups requesting $2.1 million. The board selected 22 of the agencies to receive funding. Few agencies received the full amount of their requests. The council accepted in full the recommendations of its Human Services Advisory Board.

The five programs that received the largest grants were the Community Health Association of Spokane’s dental program, the Salvation Army, Transitional Programs for Women, the YWCA and Second Harvest.

Meanwhile, some high-profile agencies missed the cut.

Project Access, which works with doctors and other health care providers who volunteer services to the poor, missed the October deadline to apply for a grant.

In response, the City Council last month set aside an additional $100,000 for a new round of grants geared only for agencies that provide access to health care. Applications are due Jan. 25.

However, “that money is truly competitive,” said Human Services Director Jerrie Allard. “It’s open for any agency to apply.”

Another group that has been encouraged to apply in the new round is the NATIVE Project. Like Project Access, it was funded in 2011. The nonprofit, which provides health care, youth programs and substance abuse treatment, didn’t make the cut because the city didn’t receive a section of the application, said Mark Pond, chairman of the Human Services Advisory Board.

Pond said the decision not to fund the NATIVE Project was one of the “more heart-wrenching” decisions faced by the board. But the board adheres to a strict evaluation and ranking system to be as fair as possible in awarding the money, members say.

For the first time, agencies approved this year are likely to be funded next year, too.

Each agency will be reviewed. If they are performing at expected levels, “the recommendation will be that they be funded next year,” Pond said.

Unless the City Council increases the $898,000 pot, groups like Project Access and the NATIVE Project could be without funding again in 2013, even if they win a piece of the $100,000 that was set aside separately.

Many nonprofit leaders say they like the new approach because it provides more financial stability.

“Generally speaking, it’s a good thing,” said Lee Taylor, director of Project Access, a program of the Spokane County Medical Society Foundation. “In my particular situation, it creates a challenge.”

They also say it allows agencies to focus on other funding sources.

“It puts a lot less work on the nonprofit to submit an application for something that everybody knows is a continuing need,” said Katie Coker, executive director of the Spokane AIDS Network.

The Spokane AIDS Network received $12,000 to assist clients in finding and maintaining housing.

“It’s our only housing assistance funds that we have anymore,” Coker said.

Three Volunteers of America programs were funded, including Crosswalk, a program and shelter for homeless teens that serves about 40 to 50 teens each day.

City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin asked the public at Tuesday’s meeting to consider donating time or money to local nonprofits.

“People watching tonight can see there’s a lot of need in our community,” McLaughlin said.

Chadez, who ran for state representative in 2010, said she abandoned her proposed initiative after city leaders said they were committed to earmarking 1 percent of the budget to human services.

“If I were doing it again, I probably would have tried to get the signatures,” she said.

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