CINCINNATI -- The volunteers who advise Cincinnati City Council on how the city should spend tax dollars on human services want to keep United Way of Greater Cincinnati as part of the process.
In a letter to city council dated Dec. 4, members of the Human Services Advisory Committee wrote that United Way's work is "vital in ensuring a fair and efficient process for the City of Cincinnati, its taxpayers, and the grantee non-profits who serve its residents."
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said in a statement to WCPO that he agrees.
"We have an obligation to ensure that limited human service dollars are distributed in a transparent, peer-reviewed, outcome and merit-based process," Cranley said. "The United Way does that well. The beneficiaries reflect the diversity of our City. Last year, 64 percent of residents who received help were African American."
As WCPO previously reported, The Black Agenda Cincinnati is calling on the council to remove United Way from the human services funding allocation process.
In a video on The Black Agenda Cincinnati's Facebook page, co-convener Dwight Tillery called on the organization's supporters to attend City Council's Dec. 5 meeting to support the group's demands, which include halting the city's funding of United Way after the current budget cycle.
The idea came up during a Nov. 17 meeting of The Black Agenda, where community activist Kelli Prather made reference to the controversy that engulfed United Way earlier this year. United Way's first-ever black CEO stepped down in October after alleging he had been the victim of "subtle threats." The turmoil sparked community conversations about whether the city's institutions support black leaders.
The Human Services Advisory Committee letter noted that the committee's chair, its co-chair, a majority of the group's active members and the staff professional at United Way that supports the group all are black.
"We all share – and many of us experience painfully in our professional lives – your concern about the pervasive racism afflicting work in institutions throughout this city," the letter stated. "But we all agree that the Human Services Advisory Committee process helps counteract bias and favoritism, which are byproducts of racism, by ensuring the grants are awarded according to fair, transparent and evidence-based criteria. This process protects the City's human services grant-making review process from power plays and lobbying which can create significant disadvantages for small qualified grassroots and minority non-profits."
Millions of city tax dollars are at stake.
The city's budget for the 2018 fiscal year included more than $5.5 million for human services. The budget for the 2019 fiscal year had nearly $5.2 million allocated for human services, according to a spreadsheet compiled by the city budget office.
Of that $5.2 million total, roughly $4.1 million went through the Human Services Advisory Committee process as administered by United Way, according to the city's official budget document.
City funds in the 2019 fiscal year allocated outside of the process administered by United Way include:
• $550,000 for the Center for Closing the Health Gap
• $250,000 for Cincinnati Works Employment retention and capacity building
• $84,827 for Strategies to End Homelessness
• $150,000 for a needle exchange program
• And $77,885 for the Center for Addiction Treatment
The committee's letter explained that for its $90,000 annual contract, United Way facilitates the process for human services funding recommendations; oversees the collection of data from nonprofits; develops and audits outcome reports; conducts regular site visits; ensures that committee members are included in the site visits; coordinates meetings; provides updates to city council members; and provides any other staff support and guidance that the committee needs.
Members of the Human Services Advisory Council are appointed by the mayor and approved by council.
You can read the full text of the committee's letter to council members below.
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. Poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.