July 10, 2010; Source: Charlotte Observer | Perhaps the public—and maybe even Nonprofit Quarterly readers—are tiring of the stories about nonprofit hardships due to the economy. They aren’t good-time stories, but they are the real life of the social safety net groups that are responding to the families and individuals most in need.
The Charlotte Observer points out that between June 2009 and May 2010, human need is up in the region: food stamp cases are up 17 percent; unduplicated public assistance cases up 10.3 percent; and referrals, calls, and inquiries for homeless support services up 29.5 percent. But United Way contributions were down in 2009 and not likely to reverse in 2010.
Mecklenburg County commissioners cut funding for nonprofits by one-third, resulting in a half dozen groups losing all of their county funding. The United Way says that about five its partner charities are expected to close or merge in the next three to four months. A local community foundation rep talks about nonprofits as “teetering” and a representative of United Way partner groups talks about threats to the safety net.
The real story is that the Observer is providing a real service to its readers and the nonprofit sector. There’s a recession-story fatigue occurring in the press and among nonprofits. Everyone wants to read about the good news of fundraising not being as bad as it seems, fundraisers predicting a better 2010, the economy turning the corner with new jobs, and government revenues bumping up with the once-again-above-10,000 Dow Jones average.
But for the nation’s poor, for the nation’s legions of long-term unemployed, for the people continuing to lose their homes due to foreclosures, the recession is not going away anytime soon.
The challenge for the Observer and the nonprofit leaders quoted in the article is not simply to describe and update the safety net problems. It is to figure out what has to be done, what can be done locally (like addressing the Mecklenburg County cuts to nonprofits), and how to mobilize nonprofits and the public at large to demand sensible policies and programs (like a new, retargeted round of stimulus funding) from state and national political decision-makers.—Rick Cohen