Charities furlough employees, brace for the worst

October 10, 2013

Several Washington area charities are furloughing employees, scaling back services and, in some cases, preparing for employee layoffs and possible closings as the federal government’s shutdown drags on.

Sasha Bruce Youthwork, which runs a homeless shelter for youth, announced Wednesday that it has furloughed nearly half of its 120-member staff and closed six of its programs, including outreach efforts that offer food and clothing, afterschool activities, AIDS/HIV testing and teen pregnancy services.

More than half of the charity’s $9 million in annual revenue comes from city funding, and 10 percent comes from federal funding. Many of those government contract reimbursements are now locked up until the federal shutdown ends.

Although Sasha Bruce Youthwork is still operating its emergency homeless shelter, the D.C.-based charity fears that a prolonged shutdown could force it to close altogether.

“By early next week, we’re going to have to make a decision on whether we have to close residential programs,” said Deborah Shore, executive director of Sasha Bruce Youthwork. “We’re tipping on the edge of that precipice.”

The Latin American Youth Center announced this week that it has furloughed more than half of its staff and reduced its programming to essential services. The furloughed staff, which includes senior leaders, will continue to work as volunteers until the shutdown ends and funding resumes.

“I’m so depressed. It’s so sad,” said Lori Kaplan, president of the youth center. “The center means so much to so many people, and this is hard on a lot of people.”

The Columbia Heights nonprofit group, which offers youth development services to 5,000 children each year, will stop some programs that promote job training and education. The group is also in the process of piloting a program that offers mentors available round-the-clock for troubled youth. Kaplan said the mentors will now work part time. Services to homeless and foster-care youth will remain in operation.

Mary’s Center, a federally funded health facility, is struggling to make its October payroll and to continue serving more than 30,000 patients, according to a statement.

The D.C.-based charity was scheduled to receive nearly $600,000 from the District Health Department on Oct. 1. Those funds are on hold until the shutdown ends.

On Wednesday, Maria Gomez, chief executive of Mary’s Center, spoke at a news conference held by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) at the Capitol to highlight the local effects of the federal shutdown. The Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington and a host of charities are lobbying on Capitol Hill this week, urging Congress to come to a budget solution.

“This shutdown is senseless,” Diana Leon-Taylor, president and chief executive of the Nonprofit Roundtable, said in an e-mail. “It is not simply furloughing government staff, but devastating our business and nonprofit sector.”

Volunteers of America Chesapeake expects to lose $1.2 million and furlough 160 employees if the shutdown doesn’t end within 30 days.

Since the shutdown began, the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence has seen an increase in requests for food and transportation assistance, the group said in a statement. But if the shutdown continues, the 12-member agency, which receives 60 to 90 percent of its budget from government funds, may reduce services, and employees will go unpaid, the statement said.

Children’s National Medical Center is awaiting $11 million it receives in Medicaid funding each month and is expected to announce this week how the delay will affect its services.

“During the recession, banks were being bailed out . . . but the nonprofit sector hasn’t gotten any help,” said Kaplan, of the Latin American Youth Center.

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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