Strong Nonprofit Advocacy or Old-fashioned Political Payback?

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March 9, 2014; Journal News

Is it possible for a nonprofit to do too good a job advocating for its cause and clients? Or is effective advocacy really good old-fashioned political payback? That’s the question that comes to mind from this report in the Journal News in upstate New York.

The paper says that a group of candidates who unsuccessfully ran against incumbents in the fall claim that the Ramapo town administration is giving a disproportionate share of funding to nonprofits serving the region’s large ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities.

According to Preserve Rockland, and in documents obtained by the Journal News, nearly 80 percent of the town’s funding for nonprofits for 2014 had been allocated to organizations based in the villages of Monsey, New Square, and Kaser, all heavily populated by ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, who comprise about 25 percent of the town’s total population.

In 2011, 2012, and 2013, Orthodox organizations received about 60 percent of the town’s total nonprofit funding, a pattern that became more obvious this year as Ramapo cut back allocations for other organizations to cope with its financial crunch. The paper reports that funding for non-Orthodox organizations was reduced or cut, while distributions for Orthodox organizations were left intact.

The candidates questioned the fairness of the funding distribution. The town board responded that it decided on a case-by-case basis, and unanimously approved the allocation of funds at its December 11th meeting.

The organization that received the most funding is the Rockland Opportunity Development Association, an anti-poverty nonprofit in Kaser. It received more than 25 percent of the town’s total nonprofit funding of $392,500 for this year. It works almost exclusively in the Orthodox Jewish community.

The second biggest allocation for 2014 was awarded to New Square Emergency Services, a volunteer first-responder organization, also with strong ties to the Jewish community. On the other hand, the Journal News reports that other nonprofits did not do so well—Head Start of Rockland, Ramapo Haitian Task Force, Haitian Caucus-Safe Spring Valley and Hi-Tor Animal Care Center will receive no funds this year. Christ Church of Ramapo in Suffern, which has been in charge of a pantry and soup kitchen launched in 1980 by a group of local churches, saw its funding eliminated for 2014.

The Preserve Rockland candidates argue that the town is rewarding the community that helped re-elect the incumbents with its bloc vote. “This disproportionate allocation of money is an extension of an ongoing pattern of discrimination by the town of Ramapo against the secular (community),” said one unsuccessful candidate, a charge echoed by others. The incumbent board disputed the allegations and said the decisions benefited the entire town, and its leadership pointed out that several secular nonprofits in Ramapo had seen their funding maintained or restored, including the Martin Luther King Multi-Purpose Center and the NAACP.

But even with those changes, the paper pointed out, about 75 percent of the town’s 2014 nonprofit funding went to organizations that serve the ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities. Although the Census Bureau does not collect data on religious affiliation, local observers estimate that about one-quarter of the town’s 126,000 people are religious Jews, a percentage that continues to increase.—Larry Kaplan