PA Nonprofit Leaders Launch Increasingly Blunt Challenges to Gov’s Priorities

February 16, 2016; Philadelphia Inquirer

Amid a state budget impasse, Pennsylvania nonprofit leaders and organizations are publicly demanding that the state’s politicians provide adequate funding for society’s most vulnerable people.

NPQ has reported on the ongoing state budget impasse in Pennsylvania and the efforts of nonprofit organizations to advocate for a humane end to the bickering.  In a recent development, more than 30 grantmakers have formed an advocacy coalition called PA People Count. The coalition encourages nonprofits and individuals to use social media to illustrate the community impact of their organizations. The coalition’s goals include getting the state’s commitment to “fully fund human services” and to develop “reforms to the state’s budget process so that Pennsylvania’s citizens, particularly its most vulnerable people, are never held hostage again by political battles.”

Three leaders of the effort wrote a joint opinion column for philly.com, the website for the city’s Inquirer and Daily News newspapers. Titled “No way to treat Pa. citizens,” the column uses blunt language to criticize the current impasse. Citing the state’s charities’ and foundations’ cumulative $2 billion annual grantmaking, the authors “refuse to let our investments be undermined by an endless cycle of poor fiscal management.”

Although the letter blames the state’s budgetary process, it clearly places blame on Democratic Governor Tom Wolf for signing an “inadequate 2015-16 budget…in which he vetoed $7 billion in spending after prolonged wrangling with the Republican-led legislature.” Unusually strong language from nonprofits when speaking of an individual politician, but illustrative of the boundaries of acceptable advocacy by a charity.

The letter, website, and coalition activities are not only unusual for their blunt criticism. It’s rare to see United Way chapters and community foundations such as the ones in the PA People Count Coalition take confrontational advocacy stances, especially in support of funding basic human needs. If anything, community foundations and United Way chapters are seen as part of the establishment, rather than challengers of it. Will this grantmaker advocacy take hold in other states, like Illinois, where budget stalemates are causing nonprofit programs to shut down for lack of funds?—Michael Wyland