Hundreds of D.C. and Maryland residents walk into the Mary’s Center health facility each day for medical care. Most patients are poor, working immigrants, relying on Medicaid and food stamps to supplement incomes earned from largely minimum wage jobs.
The center — with multiple locations in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods — has a $50 million annual budget and doesn’t turn patients away, regardless of whether they have Medicaid. In 2016, it provided $6 million in free care.
But if President Trump’s proposed cuts to Medicaid and other safety-net government services are approved, Mary’s Center would be hamstrung, and the social and medical services it provides could be threatened.
Mary’s Center and other nonprofits in the Washington region are now making a pitch to their donors: Step up and help us in case the federal government decides it won’t. In the liberal Washington region, nonprofits are hoping that tying their pitch for additional private funds to Trump’s budget will impel residents to open their pocketbooks.
“Already there is a movement of people not wanting to come in for services, or applying for aid, because they know it’s going to get cut,” said Maria Gomez, founder and executive director of Mary’s Center. “This is where community philanthropy comes in — to make sure that during this moment where there is a gap of resources, and where people are scared to get these resources, it fills in this gap.”
United Way of the National Capital Area is making the “Trump budget effect” a central theme of its annual “Do More 24” fundraising drive — an effort on June 8 in which about 600 Washington-area nonprofits compete to raise the most money in a 24-hour period.
Kelly Brinkley, chief operating officer of the local United Way chapter, said that after Trump’s election, people around the country have donated en masse to prominent national organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood. But, she said, the same attention hasn’t been placed on local organizations that provide services such as after-school programs, food assistance and housing.
Brinkley said proposed federal cuts could mean a greater demand trickling down to local nonprofits.
“We are afraid, we really are,” she said. “One of the challenges is that we know that these organizations are going to come to United Way if these budget cuts impact them, and how are we going to step up and fill the gap?”
Brinkley said, for example, there are after-school education programs for middle school students that receive much of their funding from local, state and private sources, but the food for some of these services comes from a federally funded program. If that is cut, already-stretched programs could be forced to offer slots for fewer children or search elsewhere for the funding.
“It’s devastating for us because we are seeing the great success stories in the middle school programs, and there is a fear that we can go backward,” she said.
City Year, a program partially funded through AmeriCorps that primarily sends recent college graduates to high-poverty schools for extra support, serves 18 schools in the District. Trump’s budget calls for eliminating AmeriCorps, which would mean a loss of 25 percent of City Year’s $8.2 million annual budget.
Jeff Franco, executive director of City Year Washington, DC, said there is already a bigger demand in the city than the program can meet: Last year, about 30 schools requested City Year workers in their schools, but about a dozen of those schools were denied because of funding constraints.
Franco said he is starting to have conversations with donors about what Trump’s proposed budget cuts would mean for the program. City Year, as well as Mary’s Center, is participating in United Way’s “Do More 24” drive.
“I’m having this conversation with every donor we have. As incredibly generous as they’ve been, we might have to lean on them even more if AmeriCorps cuts go in,” Franco said. “It would be difficult to sustain our work at the same level without the AmeriCorps budget.”
Gomez, of Mary’s Center, said she also is having this politicized conversation with her donors. She said that when President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act passed, many thought health-care access was no longer as dire of an issue for low-income people and ceased donations to that cause. Now, she said, she is trying to reeducate people on the need for donating to health services.
“We are also doing a lot of advocacy to make sure that these cuts don’t go through, and if they do go through, to make sure that they go through slowly,” she said.
Trump’s proposed cuts likely won’t remain intact as the budget moves through Congress, but nonprofits are still bracing for steep cuts.
Brinkley said she hopes Washington’s United Way drive brings in between $3 million to $5 million this year. Last year’s drive raised $1.55 million, but she said the need is more dire this time around.
“This is historic, and this is a historic challenge for us,” Brinkley said. “People really want to get involved and we really have this urgent call to them that they shouldn’t just think about national organizations. Think about your back yard and your neighbor and what sort of community you want to build here.”