Andromeda, the only Hispanic mental health center in the city, will not receive $38,000 the agency needs for a drug rehabilitation program for the Hispanic community.
The Washington Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, which normally gets 2,000 calls a week for information and help during the Thanksgiving-Christmas season, will have to drastically reduce the hours its crisis hotline operates because of funding cuts.
Each day, the list of nonprofit agencies that face federal and local funding cuts grows longer. Crucial events affecting Washington's nonprofit community have been coming so fast that it has been difficult to keep track of them, let alone determine what they mean, or draw up strategies to cope with them. Many agencies face the question of survival, and all must cope with a period of great uncertainty.
What is happening is no less than a basic realignment of the relationship between government, business and the nonprofit sector. How the community reacts to this change will determine whether some independent nonprofit organizations will continue to operate in the District.
The new Federal Block Grants program, that will give the District a lump sum of money rather than funds targeted for specific programs, will result in a reduction of at least 25 percent of total federal funds. Nonprofit organizations are likely to suffer a large share of this cut, particularly if City Hall uses what remains of the block grant money to pay its own staff before contracting with nonprofit agencies for social services.
The block grant system also means a harder fight for these limited funds as city agencies compete against currently funded nonprofit organizations for the same money. About 150 nonprofits who serve the local community will feel the effects most severely.
These agencies are concerned with a whole range of social, health and educational services aiding children, the elderly, the handicapped, minorities, women and more. Combined, they have a budget of millions of dollars; employ thousands; and serve just about everyone in the city. Without them, the fabric of life of the District would be torn.
While no figures are available yet as to how federal spending and private philanthropy reductions will affect District nonprofit agencies, a conservative estimate is that between $80 million and $100 million a year will be lost.
In the District, there seems to be scant hope of replacing many of these dollars with money from other sources. Increased contracts from city government are doubtful. The local philanthropic sector is limited and relatively weak. The local United Way has trouble doing much more than holding its own against inflation, and in any case, it funds only a narrow range of social programs.
Business giving and individual donations to local agencies are small compared to those of other cities (and very small compared to the wealth located here). Past efforts to involve business leaders in helping social services have been largely unsuccessful. It would take a major effort by some committed insiders to organize the business sector to make up any significant portion of lost federal funds.
The community "leadership" fails to recognize what is happening, and may not be inclined to do very much about it anyway. This means the nonprofits themselves will have to take the initiative. This will not be easy.
A crisis mentality has begun to invade the city's nonprofit community. The old guidelines and regulations are gone with no replacement.
The loss of social services increases human suffering. This should be obvious, yet the officials who pencil out budget line items and eliminate programs seem to have little sense of what it is like to, in person, close agency doors and say no to the needy.
The purpose of this litany of woes is not to gain sympathy for nonprofits or their staffs, but to alert the community to our dilemma and remind District residents that if we fail to provide these much-needed services, the city as a whole will be much the worse.
With any change there are winners and losers. Those large organizations with reserves or special lines of communication to the new funders, or with a cause that happens to be popular this year, may find themselves winners. Those nonprofits involved in advocacy or experimental programs or unpopular causes are likely to be without the right contacts, and may find themselves losers.
The Red Cross, the National Symphony, the Boy Scouts are likely to come out winners. Literacy Action, D.C. Rape Crisis Center, and the Runaway House will find it difficult.
Local nonprofits are not without some strategies for meeting the difficult situation. They range from trying to stave off change through protest and politics (perhaps too late), to giving in and adapting ourselves to the new wave. What is needed is a planned readjustment of our role, but one set on our terms, so that an independent nonprofit sector can be maintained, one that allows for diversity and fighting for unpopular causes, and for serving the basic human needs of District residents.
We need to develop further mechanisms to work together and in coalitions. There are many ways nonprofits can cooperate with each other to ease economic burdens. These include sharing office space, joint investment and shared fundraisers.
The Washington Council of Agencies now has almost 100 nonprofit member agencies in the District and a board made up of their executive directors. It provides support services, advice and consultation, information and training, and advocacy. It is a forum where nonprofits can come together to share ideas, resources and solve mutual problems. It also acts as a catalyst, program developer organizer and special interest representative.
Nonprofits came into the forefront in the '60s and '70s as a result of hard-fought battles for reform -- battles in which we were in the vanguard. This time someone else is establishing the agenda. We are not arguing today as we were in the '60s on how to solve social problems. Instead, we're arguing about survival. We need to get control of the agenda again -- get back to issues and solutions.
The writer is executive director of the Washington Council of Agencies.