Data from nonprofits reveals strained safety net and growing human needs

Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis reported 4,577 household visits to its Branch I food shelf in the first half of 2009, a 43 percent increase compared to the same period last year. Family & Children’s Services has seen large increases in requests for subsidized counseling — with 360 clients served in the first quarter of 2009 compared to 86 in the first two quarters of 2008. The Phyllis Wheatley Community Center in north Minneapolis says 40 percent of families with children in its early childhood program are delinquent paying fees.

The data comes from MAP for Nonprofits, which administered a $5 million emergency grant program for the Pohlad Family Foundation. Agencies got up to $90,000 and have to spend it between July 1 and Dec. 31, a sort of mini human-services stimulus plan. As part of the grant application this spring, agencies had to quantify the growth in demand for services. MAP shared data from 16 grantees with MinnPost.

The information covers a range of human services providers. The data is anecdotal, but points to the strain on the safety net, broadly defined.

Judy Alnes, MAP’s executive director, said it’s clear that organizations are experiencing an increase in demand the likes of which they have not seen before.

“There are certainly a large number of nonprofit organizations that are in fiscal distress,” she said. “A lot of organizations never came out of the downturn in 2001. They never rebuilt reserves.”

Waiting lists and unanswered calls
According to MAP’s summary, waiting lists and overstretched services are commonplace. Project for Pride in Living reported a 20 percent increase in demand for job training programs, in one case “with 1,200 people competing for a program designed to serve 85.”

The Bridge for Runaway Youth reported more shelter stays, walk-in crisis sessions and families needing crisis counseling in 2008 compared to 2007. It closed the waiting list for its Transitional Living Program, and the waiting list for case management and support is up 58 percent.

The Community-University Health Care Center, which serves low-income families in south Minneapolis, is getting 2,200 scheduling calls a week, 1,000 more than the staff can answer.

Family & Children’s Services reported up to a six-week wait for counseling services because of increased demand. President Molly Greenman said the longer waits happen in particular for working families who have limited options for hours.

“A six-week wait when you are dealing with issues like depression or violence or family conflict or a kid who has ADHD is pretty unbearable,” she said. “A wait of six weeks is equivalent to no service at all.”

Tight budgets
Many foundations and philanthropists have focused on meeting basic needs. The federal stimulus package has helped in some cases. Yet clearly money is tight from both government and givers.

Family & Children’s Services offers a range of programs, including anti-violence work, family support and counseling. Its budget is down $600,000, or 10 percent, in 2009. Greenman is working on the 2010 budget now, “a very sobering task,” she said.

Tim Benz, vice president of development and communications for Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said in the fiscal year just ended June 30, the organization had raised $8.15 million in individual and corporate giving, a 10 percent drop. “Revenues are lagging behind demand, no doubt about it,” he said.

The Community-University Health Care Center (CUHHC) has benefited from stimulus money, but its budget has only increased modestly, from $11.8 million in 2006 to a projected $12.9 million in 2010. That’s less than a 10 percent increase spread over four years.

Colleen McDonald, director of development and programs for CUHHC, said uncompensated care (sliding fee write-offs and bad debt) has doubled in two years, from $384,514 in 2006 to $780,912 in 2008. “The false impression that some folks have had is that since we are getting economic stimulus money, we don’t need any more help,” she said.

More uninsured?
With health care reform on the front burner, a couple of stats jumped out.

The Community-University Health Care Clinic saw 10,667 unduplicated patients in 2008, up 15 percent from the previous year. Twenty-six percent of them didn’t have insurance. Since receiving federal stimulus money in February, McDonald said the Center has served 1,094 new medical patients—38 percent of whom are uninsured. “An additional 173 established medical patients had lost their insurance coverage during this time,” she wrote.

Catholic Charities has a prenatal care program that serves uninsured and low-income women in partnership with Health East. It saw a 91 percent increase in demand, from 411 served in the first three quarters of fiscal year 2008 to 784 in the first three quarters of 2009.

Stephanie Abel works at the program and said they see people who are falling through the cracks. “They are working poor and make ‘too much money’ to be eligible for state-funded assistance, but don’t make enough money to pay for insurance on their own,” she said.

Scott Russell covers nonprofits and can be reached at srussell [at]

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly reported the percentage increase in visits to Catholic Charities’ prenatal care program. It saw a 91 percent increase in demand in the first three quarters of 2009.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/13/2009 - 10:15 am.

    I am tremendously grateful to Catholic Charities and many, many other organizations who work so hard to meet the needs of those who are struggling, more and more, just to survive. Thanks to all of you and to those who contribute their resources to keep you going. May God bless and multiply your efforts!

    Meanwhile, as Governor Tim flies the coop (where is he this week?), his chickens come home to roost. We won’t forget how much you helped him create this suffering and chaos, those of you Minnesotans who still admit to being Republicans. The facts are, as these organizations have said all along, it’s impossible for charitable organizations to take up the slack for all the government programs that have been de-funded or destroyed in recent years.

  2. Submitted by dan buechler on 08/13/2009 - 01:38 pm.

    Do did independent or swing voters also enable Governor Pawlenty perhaps Minnesota does need IRV overall, I amnot 100% for it but it would have made a more clear winner in our last senate race.

  3. Submitted by Jodi Sandfort on 08/19/2009 - 06:21 pm.

    This article nicely documents the challenges facing human service nonprofits that are doing so much with so little financial resources. Through their own initiative and programmatic capacity, they are responding and trying to help the citizens of our state. Thanks for making it visible to us all.

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