Greater Cincinnati United Way shifts primary funding focus to families in poverty

Federal budget proposal makes need 'more urgent'

CINCINNATI -- Starting next year United Way of Greater Cincinnati will distribute the vast majority of the millions it raises to local nonprofits working to help children and families in poverty.

It’s a significant shift for the United Way, which has discretion over how to invest roughly $40 million of the money it raises each year.

But it’s a change needed now more than ever because of the Trump administration’s proposed spending cuts in federal programs that help the poor, said Ross Meyer, United Way’s senior vice president and chief impact officer.

“Nearly one in three people in our 10-county region area is already struggling to make ends meet,” Meyer said. “The proposed federal budget would severely cut almost every program that helps many of our region’s working families and their children. That is why United Way’s focus on creating opportunities for every child and family in our community is even more urgent and important.”

Ross Meyer

It’s unclear whether the targeted funding approach will mean that some nonprofits that now receive United Way funding will stop getting money from the organization starting in 2018. Local nonprofits have until June 9 to request money for the funding cycle that begins next year.

“We want those partners who are open to try new things, test new approaches, focus on more holistic support for the whole family and partner deeper with others,” Meyer said.

Each year, United Way invests roughly $50 million back into the community. After taking out funding for the local chapter of the American Red Cross and money that is earmarked for specific nonprofits, United Way has discretion over about $40 million, he said. Investing in work that aims to reducing poverty bolsters the work of the Child Poverty Collaborative, which United Way manages. The collaborative is working to help 5,000 children and their families lift themselves out of poverty.

United Way’s board of directors has committed to investing between 80 percent and 90 percent of that funding with agencies working to reduce childhood and family poverty, Meyer said.

Depending on what happens with the federal budget, however, local agencies that work to reduce poverty could need additional help long before the United Way’s funding changes take effect.

‘Neighbors helping neighbors’

Freestore Foodbank is among the local nonprofit organizations that could see a big impact from the proposed cuts. 

The proposal that worries Freestore the most are cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, otherwise known as food stamps.

“When you think about it, the cuts proposed over the next 10 years really amount to a 25 percent decrease,” said Freestore Foodbank CEO Kurt Reiber. “Think about if you still have the same number of family members, but 25 percent of the dollars you have to spend on food are now taken away.”

Reiber said he has called U.S. senators from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana to explain what the cuts would mean to the families the Freestore Foodbank serves and ask them to temper the Trump administration’s proposal.

The Ohio Association of Foodbanks has determined that even if the Freestore Foodbank and its other member organizations in Ohio could double the amount of food they distribute, that would not make up for the proposed SNAP cuts, Reiber said.

Kurt Reiber

The proposed cuts to SNAP and other federal programs designed to help people in poverty make local funding efforts such as United Way’s all the more important, Reiber said.

“Poverty, hunger, those are things that are going to be solved on the local level. It’s neighbors helping neighbors,” he said. 

Freestore Foodbank and other local nonprofits are working to help people train for better-paying jobs so that, over time, they can support their families without government assistance, he said.

“In the interim, we need to keep the safety-net type programs like SNAP and Medicaid in place,” Reiber said.

More information about United Way of Greater Cincinnati and the Child Poverty Collaborative is available online.

More information about Freestore Foodbank is available online, too.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.

To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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