Category: policy

My testimony at last week’s budget hearing

by Mary Hallisy, Carter and Melissa Cafritz Charitable Trust

On April 19 I testified on behalf of WG’s Children, Youth & Families Working Group at a budget hearing in support of reform efforts at the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. Also testifying at the hearing were the mother, aunt, and grandmother of the teenage girl who was killed two weeks ago, and the mother of one of the boys killed in that same tragic event. Their comments were powerful. Grief, anger and frustration filled the room.

After they spoke it was my turn. I decided to ask that my prepared testimony be accepted into the record and speak personally for a couple of minutes. I tried to respond to the grief, offered my sympathies, and stressed the need for early intervention in the lives of troubled youth. I concluded by reaffirming our support the reform efforts of DYRS, asked for the Council’s financial support and for movement on Marc Schindler’s confirmation.

> Testimony of Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers Before the Human Services Committee Budget Oversight Hearing (April 19, 2010)

WG is urging support for a youth transition center

To read the letter of support from Washington Grantmakers to DC Councilmember Tommy Wells, chair of the Committee on Human Services, click here.

Summary: After five years in the making, the critical pieces are in place to make a Youth Transition Center a reality for DC youth aging out of the foster care system. As part of the 2010 budget process, WG’s Children, Youth and Families Working Group is advocating for full funding for the one-stop center. Without this essential safety net, hundreds of our youth will not have the support they need to become independent adults. Washington, DC has one of the nation’s highest percentages of youth in foster care that age out of the system without the resources needed to succeed. For those who face this perilous outcome, the Transition Center can be their lifeline to a better future.

Built on a foundation of positive youth development, the Center would provide:

  • Individualized support services for finishing high school and enrolling in college, connecting to jobs and housing, understanding financial management, and accessing health care.
  • Group trainings that allow for peer-to-peer and interactive learning and build youth skills in self advocacy, leadership, health and wellness, and life skills.
  • Hours of operation convenient to youth’s schedules, as well as a hotline for quick help.
  • Genuine commitment to youth by involving them on the Center’s staff and boards.

WG speaks out on summer youth employment programs

With the summer right around the corner, WG raised its concerns about how DC intends to operate its Summer Youth Employment Program this year and in the future. Joining the Brookings Institute and DC Alliance for Youth Advocates, members of WG’s Children, Youth and Families Working Group sent a letter to the DC Council applauding the city for setting a bold goal for a robust summer program – enrolling 24,000 students for a ten-week program – they have concerns about the program’s goals given the current budget realities. Among their recommendations are:

  • Consider a broader goal of enhancing year-round programs focused on “disconnected youth” – young people aged 16-24 out of school and out of work – rather than such a major investment in a short-term program
  • Modify this year’s program – reduce the number of hours worked or shorten the duration of the program – in an effort to remain within the budget
  • Provide the Department of Employment Services enough time to develop and support a uniform, high-quality program with well-defined employment-related outcomes for FY 2010

To read the full letter of support, click here.

How will the stimulus money be spent locally?

By Carolynn Mambu

Update: Call audio available here. To download, click “110683.mp3” and click “Save As.”

Like the rest of the country, local governments scrambling to fill budget gaps are counting on stimulus funding. A recent conference call from the “8 Neighbors” Network drew over 100 foundation, nonprofits and community representatives to learn about opportunities to influence how stimulus money will be used locally.

Local advocates said they will seek to limit the number of budget and service cuts that affect low income populations.  All panelists agreed that there are advocacy opportunities around education, health, workforce, housing and unemployment insurance issues.  “Regional initiatives will have the edge for funding,” suggested Neil Bergsman, of Maryland Nonprofits.

Even with the a combination of budget cuts and stimulus funds, DC is still facing a $400 million gap, according to Ed Lazere, Executive Director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. In Maryland, lawmakers approved a budget that was overly optimistic about stimulus support before the legislation was passed and are now working to resolve the difference. Virginia recently approved a budget that included stimulus money, and has already received 5,000 project proposals.

8 Neighbors has an in-depth summary of the call. For specific information about stimulus funding in each jurisdiction, see:

The Obama Transition Team reached out and Washington Grantmakers responded

By Carolynn Mambu, Vice President, Washington Grantmakers

In its quest to receive community input on health care reform, the Obama-Biden Transition Team encouraged groups across the country to hold Health Care Community Discussions.  Members of the WG’s Health Working Group responded using its December meeting to discuss health care issues facing the area’s uninsured and underserved and developed their own set of recommendations.

“The health care system that this nation develops should regulate health in the public interest, said Patricia Mathews, Chair of the Health Working Group and a WG board member.  “Not having a comprehensive system creates significant gaps in who receives care and what care they receive.”

The group focused on the fact that the medical system is limited, in that its mission is primarily to provide treatment to those already ill.  Policymakers, on the other hand, have the opportunity to make health a critical part of community planning and development by reaching across sectors to ensure that schools and workplaces promote healthy lifestyles.  The group also concurred that using place-based initiatives, such as Wellness Opportunity Zones, could bring to bear multiple design and development strategies to solve the problems of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and asthma.

Specific recommendations included:

  • Develop comprehensive and integrated systems for primary care, including oral health, behavioral health, preventative services, health education, and affordable prescription drugs;
  • Reduce the overall costs of health care by focusing on a “wellness” model, emphasizing strategies to avoid illness as well as chronic disease management; and
  • Link health reform to workforce development and job creation with a focus on low and moderate income individuals and communities of color.

Read the full report here (pdf).

WG testifies about recent changes at the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust

by Carolynn Mambu, Director of Public Policy, Washington Grantmakers

Concerns about recent leadership changes at the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation spurred Washington Grantmakers (WG) to submit testimony for a recent hearing of the DC City Council Committee on Human Services.

Members of WG’s Children, Youth and Families Working Group (CYF) have collaborated closely with the Trust since its inception. In its testimony, CYF expressed support for the Trust as an independent intermediary, and stated: “We are troubled that recent Board appointments will cause the Trust to be perceived as a political entity rather than an independent intermediary.” (Click here to review the full testimony.) CYF recommended that the Council appoint at least one member from the philanthropic community to the board to lend grantmaking expertise and to serve as a liaison to the philanthropic community. 

While several witnesses provided testimony, including incoming Executive Director Millicent Williams, the absence of several key administration officials caused Committe Chair Tommy Wells to recess the hearing until further notice.

Regional budgets are tightening, but nonprofits shouldn’t panic—yet

The media might be sounding the alarm on the economy, but Stephen Fuller says that the nonprofit community shouldn’t panic—not yet, anyway.  Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis, recently discussed the region’s economic forecast with a group of Washington Grantmakers and Nonprofit Roundtable members.


The central concern for the nonprofit community is that a failing national economy will tighten government budgets, which will in turn restrict the funding of nonprofits, and consequently increase the demand on funders. While this is a logical projection, Fuller noted that government budgets lag about a year behind current economic conditions. As a result, nonprofits should not be affected in 2008.

Since 2009 budgets are being proposed right now, the real impact of a stumbling economy might not be felt until the 2010 budget cycles. The delay between real time economic behavior and government budget decisions gives nonprofits time to prepare for a shift in funding.

Following Fuller’s regional overview, Neil Bergsman (Maryland Budget & Tax Policy Institute), Ed Lazere (DC Fiscal Policy Institute), and Michael Cassidy (The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis) discussed the budget processes in each of their respective jurisdictions. But even armed this knowledge, nonprofits and funders should be cautious of funding promises from local governments. “You have to question the numbers,” warned Cassidy. “The politics are there to bury the bad news and whistle past the graveyard.”

A few important notes:

  • In Maryland, funding for Medicaid, K-12 education, and public higher education will all increase in the 2009 budget.
  • The District’s 2009 budget, though as-yet-unannounced, will be tight. This leaves room for concern about schools funding to cover the Chancellor’s new initiatives, which were not previously anticipated.
  • Assuming Virginia maintains its current service level, the state’s existing revenue stream will not be sufficient. The result will be an estimated $1.2 billion deficit projected for the 2008-2010 biennium budget.

The Economy, Nonprofits, and Local Philanthropy: A Timely Discussion

The possibility of an economic stimulus package is filling the national headlines, but the story isn’t only a national one. The Virginia and Maryland legislatures and the DC Council are facing budgetary realities that may have significant impact on the nonprofits you support and the funding requests that you receive. A recent special report in the Chronicle of Philanthropy states that nonprofits are “bracing for tough times” as the economy continues to falter.

This coming Tuesday, Washington Grantmakers will host a Regional Budgets Briefing with the Nonprofit Roundtable. We’ve arranged for local and national experts to give us a look at how budget challenges in DC, Maryland, and Virginia will have dramatic consequences for area nonprofits and the issues on which we all work.

Our panel will be comprised of: Stephen Fuller (GMU Center for Regional Analysis), Ed Lazere (DC Fiscal Policy Institute), Neil Bergsman (Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute), and Michael Cassidy (The Commonwealth Institute)

If you would like to attend, please email

These articles offer more information on some of the challenges facing our region and the field of philanthropy:

Bracing for Tough Times (Chronicle, 2/7)
Charities Vow to Fight Proposed Cuts in Federal Budget (Chronicle, 2/6)
MD Gov. O’Malley proposes budget (MD Nonprofits, 1/17)
Response to VA Gov. Kaine’s Budget (Commonwealth Institute)

1/8/08 – Policy Wins

Over the past few weeks, Washington Grantmakers’ advocacy efforts in collaboration with partners have seen some successes:

Funding for Summer Youth Programs – In November, the leadership of WG’s Children, Youth and Families Working Group met with Council Member Tommy Wells (W6), Chair of the Committee on Human Services, to express concern about the reduced funding allocation for 2008 summer youth programs. The result: The City Council revised the Mayor’s Supplemental budget, approving a $5.1 million allocation to the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation for after-school programs. The Mayor still needs to sign it, but this is a great step forward. (If the Mayor does not sign the budget by Jan. 14, it will take effect automatically.) 

Congress Lifts Ban on Public Funding for D.C. Needle Exchange Programs – When President Bush signed a $555 billion 2008 spending bill in December, he effectively signed into law the use of public funds for needle-exchange programs in the District, thus lifting a nine-year old ban. (The House initially voted to lift the ban back in June.) In a city with an estimated 9,700 intravenous drug users, needle exchange programs have been proven effective at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS infections. District officials have already announced plans to put $1 million towards needle-exchange programs in 2008.

More Funding for Affordable Housing – In December, Washington Grantmakers and the Community Development Support Collaborative sent letters to the D.C. City Council urging them to approve Mayor Fenty’s request to dedicate an additional $50 million for the creation of permanent supportive housing in the Supplemental Appropriations Act. The Council voted to direct $30 million of the request to the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) and to dedicate $11 million of that amount for the creation of permanent supportive housing. This action is a victory in that there is at least some dedicated funding to support creation of permanent supportive housing. And, the allocation of an additional $19 million to the HPTF will make it possible to fund more projects in the pipeline.

-Carolynn Mambu