Safety Net Nonprofits as “Whacked Moles”

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May 12, 2013; Frederick News-Post

An op-ed in the Frederick News-Post from the Rev. Barbara Kershner Daniel, a local religious leader in Maryland, likens the experience of local safety net nonprofits to being the moles in a Whack-a-Mole game.

She comments that the image came to her as she sat in on county commissioner meetings where the proposed 2014 budget was discussed. “As new needs are identified, the commissioners have ‘whacked’ them, not with a mallet, but with funds that previously had been used to meet existing needs. This causes the existing needs, from which funds have been diverted, to pop up again.” She points out that, over the last three years, county support safety net services in Frederick declined from $622,000 to $264,000, and that at a recent hearing, she heard that amount will be cut to $138,000 in 2014.

But, she relates, “This year, the county commissioners put into place a request for proposal process based on the human needs assessment report done by the Community Foundation. The commissioners would accept requests for funding based on specific priorities. These included the development of a homeless family shelter, additional case management for the homeless, seniors and people with mental illness, shelter for domestic violence victims and affordable health care. But these proposals needed to be ‘new’ or ‘expanded’ programs. In other words, funding has been and will be removed from current programs to meet ‘new’ needs.”

She goes on to say that some nonprofits choose not to apply for new dollars because “they would be diverting energy and resources from current programs that are vital and necessary.” She calls all of this an “inherently cruel game.”—Ruth McCambridge

  • Barbara Huston

    As a program that provides critical transportation for older adults to access medical appointments and grocery stores, it has been difficult enough during the economic crisis to gather resources which sustain our community-based nonprofit. The mindset of “new and few” dollars is totally counterproductive for addressing already woefully underfunded needs.

  • Linda Davis

    Observations over a 30 year career in non-profits suggest that whacking moles is the usual and customary way of dealing with human needs. Government constantly diverts a limited pool of funds from one cause to another, which means that social ills, such as homelessness, mental illness, domestic violence, child abuse/neglect, etc., are never fully addressed and just continue from one generation to the next. Non-profits go through a constant cycle of funding for new programs, loss of funding for proven programs, and exodus of educated and skilled staff followed by awareness of a crisis that never really went away, which starts the funding diversion cycle all over again. Consistent, adequate funding might just help non-profits produce long-term solutions that would benefit all of society.