While it has proven to be a frustrating process for all involved, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors’ effort to restructure the county government grant-making process is important.
The work is built on two fundamental conclusions shared by county supervisors and nonprofit leaders.
The first is that the county government has a role—a valuable role—in helping provide a stronger community safety net. At times, previous county board members have argued that such contributions should be left to individuals and the work left to churches. It’s a position that scores political points, but seldom achieves the desired results. This board has acknowledged the tremendous community benefits that can be achieved by dedicated even a tiny percentage of tax collections to targeted support services.
The second is that the process used to distribute the grants is broken. Previous efforts to insulate the distributions from political influence has resulted in an inflexible system that doesn’t maximize the impact of the investments. Some well-established organizations receive grants because they always have and some relative newcomers working to address emerging challenges are left on the waiting list.
Supervisors have wrestled with ways to fix it, with the latest effort drawn up by board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona. While this plan appears to address many of the concerns, it creates new ones—not the least of which is the potential to erode the financial viability of some long-serving organizations that continue to provide needed services. With limited resources available, it is not possible to accomplish the reallocation without causing fiscal stress for some, but the cost to the community of a nonprofit cutting programs or closing its doors could be much higher.
That is the concern raised in a letter to the board from the leaders of 24 Loudoun nonprofit organizations, operating under the umbrella of the Human Services Network. “[L]ives are saved because of the services provided by many nonprofits facing funding eliminations or significant decreases. If organizations that are part of the human services safety net must cease their programs due to these funding cuts, people in our community will not have access to food, health care, housing, shelter and more,” they wrote.
Their proposed solution is not to increase government funding or block efforts to redistribute the available funds. Rather, it is to have a hand in solving the problem.
While it can be argued that the last thing the county government needs is another advisory committee, there is value in their suggestion to have the front-line experts around the table with county government leaders to help solve the problem in a way that strengthens the safety net for all involved.