“Safety Net” by Andrew Skudder

June 15, 2017; Bozeman Daily Chronicle

In a story playing out in communities across America, one of Bozeman, Montana’s largest social service nonprofits is looking to local government to make up for some drastic federal budget cuts that could be coming in the next year.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that HRDC, one of the area’s major social service providers, has historically been largely funded with federal money. But, with the Trump administration calling for big cuts to social service spending in next year’s federal budget, nearly half of HRDC’s funding could be lost.

So HRDC, a multiple-service organization that runs programs ranging from helping house the homeless to operating food banks and a local bus system, is now looking to local governments like the city of Bozeman for more help. HRDC is asking for a larger portion of local property tax revenue to support its programs as the city prepares its budget for next year.

“Obviously, there’s budget uncertainty,” HRDC’s CEO told the paper, adding that “We’re looking to reach out to our long-term partners and ask for some additional support.”

It’s not clear what will come of the president’s budget proposal in Washington, but it currently includes cuts to the funding for about 45 percent of HRDC’s services, from home weatherization work that helps lower energy bills, to a senior volunteer program, to down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers. Transportation funding that helps support the bus service is facing a 30 to 40 percent cut.

HRDC had a $13.7 million budget in fiscal year 2016, including $6.2 million in federal grant money. Many of the nonprofit’s programs are funded by philanthropy, which makes up about a third of its budget. Less than two percent currently comes from local government.

HRDC is asking the city to allocate less than $100,000, a small portion of its budget. The idea is that city support would provide a flexible funding stream that the nonprofit could move around based on need from year to year. But the Chronicle says that request “could open the door to more social service support by city taxpayers.”

Bozeman’s city commissioners were generally supportive of the request at a budget deliberation last week. One commissioner told the paper that the request will spur “a real conversation about what the role of city government is in taking care of all its citizens.”

That’s a conversation that will be taking place in communities large and small across the U.S. in the next year. It reinforces the importance of community-based nonprofits to bolster their relationships with local government in the face of diminishing support from Washington.—Larry Kaplan