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Publication Date: Friday, April 27, 2001

"There should be less overhead, with more going towards the poor." @dropname:Mayor Mario Ambrao "Nobody goes into this business to make money." @dropname:Steve Pehanich, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul

Limited block grant funds leave some organizations short Limited block grant funds leave some organizations short (April 27, 2001)

By Justin Scheck

The struggle for funding that nonprofit organizations must undertake to provide their services was evidenced at a Monday city council meeting, where over two dozen groups made their cases to receive part of the city's limited funds.

Each year, the council allocates its federal community development block grant (CDBG) funds, and a share of its general fund, to agencies that provide services to the community.

Agencies submit requests to the council in advance; they then appear before the council and make a verbal request for the funding.

But limited funds and the fact that many of these groups provide valuable services to the young, the old, the poor and the sick makes the process a conflicted one.

The allocation process consists of three separate sections: CDBG public services. General Fund requests, and CDBG/HOME capital projects.

While funding decisions were largely dictated by the small amount of available money, council members raised questions about the efficiency of funding so many agencies, and whether changes in the process could make it more effective.

"My question is what is the percentage of overhead versus what (the nonprofits) serve," said Mayor Mario Ambra. "There should be less overhead, with more going towards the poor."

Ambra said he worries that some organizations spend too much money on administrative salaries, and not enough on the people they serve. He said "pretty much all of them" seemed top-heavy.

Council member Rosemary Stasek said that nonprofits' administrative costs have "never been an issue" for her.

"Number one, I know what (nonprofit administrators) get paid," said Stasek. "And number two, I think it's unfair to isolate salaries as not helping the people who need to be helped."

Stasek said nonprofits are an "easy target" for people who feel the government should not be funding service agencies.

"There is not one nonprofit that I know of that's top-heavy. Nobody goes into this business to make money," said Steve Pehanich, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, a charity that runs numerous services for low-income residents, as well as the city's day worker center.

This year the city had a total of $154,000 of CDBG service funds available, although agencies requested a total of $221,097. Last year's service funding amounted to $156,000, but a decrease in the amount of loan paybacks from last year to this year resulted in decreased revenue.

For the public service funds, the Mountain View Community Services Agency received its requested total of $81,412 for senior services, emergency assistance, and the Alpha Omega shelter program, an increase of more than $5,000 over last year's CDBG funding for the same programs.

At the other end of the spectrum was a new project from the Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC) to expand services for at-risk Latino youth in Mountain View. CHAC requested $20,000 for the program, but received no funding.

And while most organizations that had received CDBG funding in last year got continued funding, none of the new public service proposals received money. These include the CHAC proposal, a voice mail service for the homeless offered by the Community Technology Alliance, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society's emergency assistance for low-income persons.

"St. Vincent de Paul will continue helping people in Mountain View and the surrounding communities regardless of where the funding is," said Pehanich. "It's a constant struggle for nonprofits...and it's difficult when the local communities don't help."

Overall, the limited CDBG funding prevented service organizations from receiving increases over what they received last year. Five organizations received less CDBG funding this year than last year, with the greatest cut going to the Clara-Mateo Alliance Shelter emergency shelter for the homeless, whose $5,000 funding for 2000-01 was cut to $2,005 for 2001-02.

The general fund requests for public service programs amounted to $196,037, while only $170,595 was available. And while a new request from Junior Achievement of Santa Clara County for $9,000 was turned down, every one of the other nine organizations requesting general fund support received equal or greater funds compared to last year.

In council's discussions of the funding, council members raised the question of whether the city was funding multiple organizations to fulfill similar tasks, as well as whether organizations were paying too much money in overhead costs, and not enough to directly fulfill their programs.

The CDBG/HOME funding for capital projects entailed a similar discussion, although only five groups requested money. Because most of the city's CDBG and HOME funds have been allocated to the in-progress efficiency studio apartment development being built at the San Antonio Loop, only $60,000 was available to fund the other projects.

Of the remaining funds, $30,000 went to Economic and Social Opportunities, Inc., which provides homer repair for low-income seniors.

The council gave $20,000 to the Pacific Autism Center for Education to help with the purchase of an adult residential care group home. The center had requested $300,000 for the project.

$10,000 also went to the Society of St. Vincent De Paul to help improve or relocate the day worker center on San Antonio.


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