July 5, 2012; Source: Press Democrat

This is a common story we encounter from California, a story of municipalities cutting back on the funding they used to provide nonprofits for the delivery of services. Sometimes it involves cities deciding to keep for themselves the “public service” component of their Community Development Block Grant allocations that typically go to nonprofit service providers, sometimes it is withholding grant and contract funds from general revenues. We’ve seen this in California’s smaller cities, sometimes accompanied by a governmental narrative questioning why municipalities should be supporting nonprofit service providers at all.

The latest example is Rohnert Park, a small city with a population of about 40,000, located north of San Francisco. City officials there have announced major cutbacks for nonprofits with the expectation of eliminating funding for nonprofits entirely. Sonoma County Adult and Youth Development’s grant will decline from $130,000 last year to $46,000 this year, cutting back on its ability to provide emergency rental and housing grants. Rebuilding Together, a housing rehab nonprofit, will be cut from $70,000 to $21,000. If we understand the math correctly, that leaves $33,000 approved by the city for the Committee for the Shelterless, which operates five transitional housing facilities.

Rohnert Park’s problem is that it was using redevelopment funds for these services, but the state’s elimination of redevelopment agencies meant that it had to find alternative resources. After a year of using in-lieu housing fees, it has tapped out that source too.

At least in Rohnert Park’s case, statements suggesting animus toward nonprofits have not accompanied the cutbacks. To the contrary, the city officials quoted by the Press Democrat seemed sincerely distressed by the city’s reduced ability to provide support to the service providers that deliver housing assistance to the city’s poor. Nonetheless, we have to imagine that there are many nonprofit service deliverers in small cities across the nation that are facing similar funding rescissions. Because they are small cities and generally small nonprofits, they don’t make national headlines, but the cutbacks add up to major diminishments of the services available to probably millions of poor people.—Rick Cohen