Tucson, AZ (February 21, 2010)- A group of 25 nonprofit agencies has put forward a plan that would require the Tucson City Council to triage community needs and make logical and effective decisions about how to spend limited dollars for human services. The plan is doable and it makes good business sense. The City Council should adopt it in quick order.
The foundation of the plan is simple: While the people of Tucson have many needs, some are more urgent and those should be funded first. Food, domestic violence, and emergency shelter and housing are the “Tier 1: Survival, Security, and Crisis Assistance” needs that would take priority and receive 60 percent of available city funding for human services.
The remaining 40 percent would be directed to Tier 2 categories: home repair and adaptation; shelter and housing-based employment programs; and maintaining food, shelter, clothing, personal care and other items of daily sustenance for children, youth, seniors, homeless and working poor. Human services, it’s important to note, are separate from other city services like police and fire protection.
The plan’s genesis is instructive. Faced with continual budget cuts, representatives of nonprofit agencies that deal with human services began talking and figuring out how to work together. They opened the invitation to all, organizers said, and from that, a plan evolved for how the City Council should evaluate which “outside agencies” to fund.
Twenty-five agencies- from the Community Food Bank to Child and Family Resources- eventually signed off on the plan. “As it started evolving, the table grew,” said Sue Krahe, executive director of Our Family. “This is the first time we’ve come together,” she said. “We’ll probably all lose money out of this proposal, and it’s not about that. It’s about coming together and asking, What is best for our community?
The City Council needs a way to evaluate outside agencies’ services, assess the greatest needs, and marshal resources to those needs. This plan provides it.
What is stunning is that a method to prioritize city human-services funding does not already exist. Instead, these expenditures are lumped into “outside agencies” in the city budget- along with community festivals and economic-development agencies.
Members of the City Council have, for many years, talked about protecting the most vulnerable, making sure taxpayer money is spent wisely and making sure our community plans for the future. Throwaway phrases like “investing in our youth” and “the children are our future”- staples of any elected official’s vocabulary- never meant much, and they mean even less now that government resources are stretched so thin.
City Council members should recognize that adopting this plan will anger some people who are accustomed to the old way of funding agencies- a loose process based on previous funding decisions, personal connections and pet projects, and agencies making the rounds, hats in hand, each year. Some agencies will lose more money than others under this plan- and that’s unfortunate, but OK.
But as upset as some constituents and recipient agencies will be, council members should recognize that this plan gives them political cover to make uncomfortable decisions they can no longer avoid. What’s more, they should also remember that nonprofit agencies are businesses- agencies have employees, raise and manage money, leverage grants, buy and provide services- and that in an atmosphere where Tucson is desperate to prove it is “business friendly,” council members should embrace a sound business plan when they see it.
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