Nonprofits Carrying out the Stimulus–or Trying to

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It would be well worth the nonprofit sector’s attention and energy to start documenting what 501(c)(3) organizations are doing to generate new jobs as a result of their use of economic stimulus funds.

Because the early indications are that nonprofits are eager to take and spend funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus legislation passed in early 2009), but there’s not a lot that is necessarily reaching nonprofits, or reaching them as fast as it should, and nonprofits aren’t doing much to keep track of their sector accomplishments in the nation’s slow slog out of this recession.

In this post, we take note of what nonprofits are being credited with at this early stage of stimulus implementation.

The Nonprofit Summer Jobs Role

One significant area of nonprofit endeavor is in summer jobs.  The stimulus funds hugely increase the summer jobs capacities of counties and cities, with nonprofits as the logical first stop for placing young people.  However, in some instances, the federal stimulus money is simply compensating for the cuts summer jobs programs have suffered in state budgets.  The June 19th Belleville News-Democrat (Will Buss and Mike Fitzgerald, “Federal Stimulus Provides Summer Jobs for Metro-east Youths”) lauded the creation of 400 summer jobs in the counties containing and surrounding East St. Louis, Illinois, one of the most economically distressed communities in the nation.  But at the same time, the region has lost 300 summer jobs due to former governor Rod Blagojevich’s 75 percent cut in the state’s summer jobs program from 10,000 to 2,500 slots, with zero slated for the East St. Louis area.

Baltimore’s Mayor Sheila Dixon announced an expansion of that city’s summer youth job programs due to $3.5 million from the stimulus, the first federal money Baltimore has received from the feds for summer jobs in a decade (“Baltimore City Reaches 2009 Youthworks Goal,” US State News, June 18, 2009).  A significant slice of those jobs will run through Baltimore nonprofits through the City’s Youthworks program.

Nonprofit employment providers have numbers and accomplishments to count as well.  Michigan’s Experience Works helps older workers get training, an obvious need in that state’s plunging manufacturing sector, and with stimulus funding has added 115 training slots to its usual 700 a year (Melissa Domcic, “Never  Too Old,” Lansing State Journal, June 15, 2009). Others like YouthBuild will also be receiving substantial stimulus funding for job training, like the YouthBuild affiliated with the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Yakima, Washington (Leah Ward, “OIC’s Youthbuild Gets $652,500 Federal Grant,” Yakima Herald-Republic, June 16, 2009).

Health Clinics as Employment Generators

The large portion of stimulus investment in health care should pay off for nonprofits beyond the 501(c)(3) hospitals in the sector.  For example, Nashville’s United Neighborhood Health Services has used stimulus funding to establish three new clinics which have generated 15 new jobs (Bonna Johnson, “Stimulus has done little for Tennessee jobs,” The Tennessean, June 19, 2009).  In Los Angeles, the Watts Health Center is providing job training (“US Stimulus Funds Provide Job Training, Food in Los Angeles,” Voice of America News, June 17, 2009).

Five community health centers in Detroit are receiving stimulus funding, exemplified by Detroit Community Health Connections, which is renovating two of its five sites and is hiring dental technicians, support staff, and a midwife (Jay Greene, “Health Centers Plan Expansions; $3M from D.C. Expected; Uninsured a Target,” Crain’s Detroit Business, June 15, 2009).  Health care is one of the precious few expanding areas of the U.S. economy, so for nonprofits to aim at health as a job and service creation focal point in the stimulus makes sense.

Mankato, Minnesota’s Open Door Clinic was able to take an existing proposal for expanding its facilities and services to use stimulus funds to double the size of the clinic and make plans to hire dental hygienists, family nurse practitioners, and support staff (Dan Linehan, “Stimulus Has Effect: Some Jobs Kept,” The Free Press, June 14, 2009).

Protecting Communities in the Housing Market

Given the nation’s housing crisis, there are several components of the stimulus geared to providing housing assistance, including emergency support for the homeless regarding rents and more.  Nonprofits in Miami County, Ohio, are in a hurry-up mode to put together plans for $266,000 in stimulus funding (Nancy Bowman, “Miami County Applies for Housing-Related Aid,” Dayton Daily News, June 18, 2009), though the nonprofits involved in meeting with county commissioners such as the Family Abuse Shelter are discovering limitations on the funding flexibility (these funds can go for rents or utilities but not for mortgage assistance) and the need, even with a relatively small appropriation, to put together a plan that avoids program overlaps and confusion.  According to a report in the Shreveport Times (Drew Pierson, “Officials Ready for Stimulus,” June 16, 2009), Bossier City, Louisiana, is using a portion of its stimulus funding to support the creation of a housing counseling program run by a church-based community development corporation (New Zion Baptist Church Urban Corporation), the funding apparently from the public service portion of stimulus-provided Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.

Economic development projects sponsored by nonprofits also trigger stimulus funding.  In El Paso, Texas, the City Council is providing a short term quarter-million dollar bridge loan to La Mujer Obrera, a nonprofit developer, for its Mexican-style market (el Mercado Mayapan), to be repaid with stimulus funds the developer is slated to receive (David Burge, “Mercado Seeks Loan ahead of U.S. Grant,” El Paso Times, June 14, 2009).

Service Agency Struggles

For some nonprofits, the local cuts are virtually impossible to undo with federal money. In Louisville, Kentucky, Mayor Jerry Abramson held a budget hearing addressing the concerns of nonprofits in the Metro Government’s FY2010 budget (Louisville is a consolidated city/county).  The irony is that the hearing was held in the Senior Wellness Center at Schnitzelburg—whose usual $55,000 budget allocation had been zeroed out in the Abramson budget.  The Center along with the Metropolitan Housing Coalition and various nonprofit theaters and community centers all made pitches for funding restorations despite the FY2010 budget’s $15 million cut from the previous year’s $500 million, with the obvious hope that they would get some of the one-shot stimulus funding flowing into the region (Dan Klepal, “Council Hears More Pleas to Restore Funds,” Courier-Journal, June 18, 2009).

It isn’t only social service organizations in Louisville trying to figure out how to access stimulus funds.  From the metropolitan Atlanta area, a group of ministers organized as the Georgia Stimulus Community Coalition trekked to Washington to meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to aim at Health and Human Services funding that might benefit their constituents and congregants (“Rep. Johnson Meets with Local Pastors to Discuss Recovery Funds,” Targeted News Service, June 17, 2009).  With the former Compassion Capital Fund now reprogrammed as the Strengthening Communities Fund, lacking the faith-based prioritization of the Bush-era program, churches that had been beneficiaries of that largesse are trying to figure out how their programs fit within stimulus program funding priorities.  Louisville ministers are raising similar concerns about restrictions  that might limit their abilities to use federal funds for staff salaries and office expenses (Dan Klepal, “Rules on Funds Worry Ministries,” Courier-Journal, June 16, 2009), presumably referring to payments for staff who are hired with religious restrictions and office expenses on properties used primarily for religious purposes.

Tell the Story

What’s obvious in these notes is the following:  Nonprofits are actively creating jobs through the economic stimulus–or at least they are trying to.  But they are frequently encountering obstacles–government agencies that are not particularly clear about how the stimulus funds might be used, agencies looking to cut state and local appropriations in the hope that stimulus funds will plug the budget holes (even though the stimulus funds are one-time-only grants), and challenges in making sure local nonprofits are appropriately networked and coordinated to make the best possible use of stimulus dollars.

What the sector needs is better record-keeping and monitoring about what it is accomplishing and what hurdles it is facing.  Otherwise, when the history of the stimulus is written, one might have a difficult time fully appreciating what the nonprofit sector was prepared to deliver to revitalize the U.S. economy.

  • John Honey

    Rick, you know what I’ve been through.

    Your last paragraph says it all!

    I have really been busy on “our” problem. I realized that I had not been legally fired and went back to work pro bono. Big changes are coming. You got me to thinking and maybe we will have it all figured out soon. Best wishes for all of us!