Left in the Cold by United Way

Aug 3, 2011

Social service agencies that have long received funds from United Way of the Bluegrass this year lost that support.  Funding cuts have programs at organizations like the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities scrambling for cash.  United Way, with collects donations and then distributes the funds among such charities, has narrowed the list of programs that qualify.

Young kids gather for lunch at the Salvation Army’s early learning center program.  Sherry Newton’s ten month old son Phoenix is a part of the program.

“He’s been introduced to the other children that are helping him want to develop faster and they have some nutrition guidelines for their breakfast and lunch and afternoon snacks, so he’s also getting introduced to new foods and that’s been a blessing and a learning experience for him,” said Newton.

Newton’s other son, seven year old Kaleb, is involved in the Salvation Army’s boys and girls club.  500 kids are in the club and another 122 in the early learning center program.  Salvation Army Major Debra Ashcraft says United Way reduced its support to both programs by a total of 73 thousand dollars.  As a result, she says downgrades are likely.

“In the early learning center we are making plans now sadly to go from four rooms down to three which means that we will have to eliminate 12 spots for homeless children and low income children in our early learning center,” said Ashcraft.

Ashcraft says it will not mean dropping those currently enrolled, but it will affect those on the waiting list.  She says adding volunteers is not an option.

“We cannot replace a staff member with a volunteer because of all of the training and educational requirements that are involved.  The early learning center and boys and girls club are both licensed programs,” said Ashcraft.

Lori Hainley is a pregnancy counselor with Catholic Charities of Lexington.  Hainley and a co-worker travel to meet with pregnant women in their homes.  In addition to emotional support, she says the services include help about 75 women each year with baby supplies and transportation. Hainely says their office is usually contacted within a few hours after a woman learns she is pregnant…

“But our primary goal is to step into a situation when it’s at a crisis point and try to calm that situation so that we can then look toward the further needs of the entire family,” said Hainley.

Hainley says United Way has supported her agency for the 20 years she’s been with them. But not anymore.  Hainley says a 45 thousand dollar request was not funded by United Way.

An appeal process is available for agencies that have been de-funded. According to the United Way, four agencies appealed their funding levels and another is considering an appeal. 

United Way President Bill Farmer says the changes reflect an expansion of a mission and not a re-definition.  He says the new strategy is to fund agencies in areas of health, education, and

“The change is that we were in critical and essential services and providing assistance to agencies and we moved beyond that to addressing the underlying issues. In essence, taking the band aid off saying what can we do to make sure these problems don’t continue to occur in the community,” said Farmer.

Farmer says United Way allocated some three million dollars out of about six million dollars in requests.  85 agencies will get money this year, but obviously some face cuts, or no funding at all.

“We wanted to make sure that people would not go hungry or people would not go homeless as we were making this transition.  We know that before you can work with people on issues associated with education or personal finance and in many cases health, they have to be comfortable and safe,” said Farmer.

Along with changes in funding, United Ways’ new process emphasizes accountability. The ‘outcome based’ funding mechanism requires agencies to report on performance every six months.

“We can take a look at the performance of each individual agency and make a decision whether or not we should reduce the funding because they are not producing the outcomes that they projected or if we raise more funding, we would provide additional revenue to the agencies because they are exceeding their goals,” said Farmer.

That revenue will not come from United Ways’ fall fund raising campaign. The trademark event is no longer held. These days, Farmer says raising money is a year round activity, including efforts to attract outside grants.