Pa. nonprofits, hobbled by lack of state funds, support one another

    Joel Snyder, housing case manager for the Salvation Army in Norristown, sets up cots for the homeless in the organization's basement gym. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Joel Snyder, housing case manager for the Salvation Army in Norristown, sets up cots for the homeless in the organization's basement gym. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    As 2015 nears its end, nonprofit organizations are watching Pennsyvania’s Capitol and contemplating their fate if the budget impasse continues to lengthen into the new year.

    Some have banded together to lend support — and legal advice — for navigating a no-man’s land of need. They are also eying next year’s budget season, with the goal of preventing another dry spell.

    Coping with one-third the funds

    Maria Macaluso, executive director of the Women’s Center of Montgomery County, said it’s been hard to explain exactly what not having a state budget means for her organization.

    “So I tell people imagine in your own household trying to operate on about a third of what you normally would have,” she said.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    The women’s center runs a domestic violence hotline, and counseling and support for families or older people fleeing abuse. About two-thirds of its funding comes from state and federal dollars. The state money is inaccessible until a budget is passed, and only about $1.4 million in federal funds for the state’s 60 domestic violence shelters has been released since the start of the impasse.

    Macaluso described a patchwork of stop-gap efforts — from small fundraisers to deferring payment to staff with other means of support — to continue operations. For the most part, she said, the center has been able to provide the same level of service, and it has been heartened by donors and staff stepping up to support them.

    Other agencies haven’t been so lucky.

    “Some have maxed out one, two, three lines of credit and aren’t able to borrow any more, some have cut back on services … some organizations have asked employees to stay home without pay,” said Anne Gingerich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations.

    Changing the landscape

    In response to questions from members, the association held phone calls with leaders of nonprofits across the state to share advice on everything from crowd-sourced funding to the legal ramifications of furloughing employees.

    “Many of them would say, we have been telling our story, legislators ask us to tell our story, but no one’s listening,” said Gingerich. Those phone calls have transitioned to action planning for next year’s budget. Legislators start talking about the next year’s budget in March.

    PANO will start gathering nonprofit leaders from around the state in January or early February to discuss plans to change state policy. That could mean finding a way to free up federal dollars earlier in the year, or lobbying to change state law around the rights of nonprofits during a budget impasse.

    Both Macaluso and Gingerich said they believe that since the Supreme Court ruled that state workers must be paid for work rendered, even without a budget, after a prolonged impasse in 2009, there has been less fervor to get a budget in place.

    “I’ve been doing this work for 18 years, and this is the first time I haven’t seen a real public outcry,” said Macaluso.

    Not until school districts go into crisis without a budget, as Philadelphia said it could in January, will people react, nonprofit leaders said.

    In the meantime, the contracts organizations such as Macaluso’s hold with the state require them to keep up the same level of service, even if the body issuing that contract fails to pay them.

    “There are shelters that are closing, there are hotlines that can’t be staffed … what are you saving six months into this that you haven’t already destroyed?” she said.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal