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Impact of fund reallocation: United Way refocusing money towards poverty reduction

United Way refocusing money towards poverty reduction (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Cincinnati's Child Poverty Collaborative unveiled its strategy to lift 5,000 families, including 10,000 children, out of poverty over the next five years.

The biggest part of that announcement is that the United Way is refocusing its millions of dollars in spending specifically towards poverty reduction.

But what exactly does that mean, and will it work? That seems to be something that is still being worked out.

“Well I’ve been dealing with stage four lung cancer in both lungs. Spread to my brain,” said Rodney Haley.

56-year old Rodney Haley is a client at Cancer Family Care. Where he gets mental health therapy and counseling.

“A referral to Cancer Family Care is a life saver. Not because we administer medication, but to help people find the will to live,” said Cancer Family Care Director Jill Settlemyre.

“What I get out of it is comfort, knowing that it's going to be okay. Strength, knowing I can continue to fight,” said Rodney.

But Cancer Family Care is in limbo.

The agency gets about a quarter of its million-dollar budget from The United Way and with The United Way changing its funding focus towards poverty reduction, the amount of care which Cancer Family Care can provide is up in the air.

“Sure and that is an unknown,” said Settlemyre. “At this point we don't have any concrete answers.”

Cancer Family Care is not alone. They are just one of many examples. United Way helps fund 140 agencies in a 10 county area.

Each of those agencies is going through the same self-analysis as Cancer Family Care with United Way changing its funding emphasis.

Questions like: What will it mean for my agency? For the people I help?

“That's a great question,” said United Way CEO Rob Reifsnyder.

Actually, it's the $58 million question. That's how much The United Way distributed last year, serving 370,000 people.

That is “Dilemma #1.” The total pot of money is not likely to change. Some goes here, some goes here, some goes here, but if you shift the funding focus some of what goes here may go over there.

There will be winners and there will be losers.

“There will be some that will have probably increased allocation from United Way. Some will have lesser amounts from United Way,” said Reifsnyder.

Which brings us to “Dilemma #2.” Every agency funded by united way could probably make a good argument that they help fight poverty. So when you're shifting money, how do you define poverty reduction? Fixing somebody's roof? Job training? Mental health counseling?

“You know the number one cause of bankruptcy in this country is disease. You can have a great job, be well educated and you can be slammed with cancer and it can completely turn your life upside down, and that's where agencies like Cancer Family Care come in,” said Jill Settlemyre.

As part of the poverty funding shift, United Way is speeding up reviews of each agency. The normal three-year funding cycle now cut to two.

Applications have to be in soon for 2018, which is when the poverty-focused spending begins, for the first time, specifically targeting people under 200% of the federal poverty line.

About $48,000 a year for a family of four.

Cancer Family Care already has a big low-income component. Half its clients are served for free so the agency is reasonably optimistic it will not see a funding reduction.

“Our results speak for themselves. If it were to happen, I don't think it will, but if it did happen it would mean we as an agency would have to work to find the funding somewhere else, because we have to provide the services to the community,” said Jill Settlemyre.

It's easy to see this as a big dollar question. Agencies, budgets, philosophies, numbers, but in the end it comes down to people.

There is a limited amount of money being shifted around, in the hope of being more efficient. Some people will be helped. Some will not

Rodney Haley has been helped. As Haley puts on his oxygen to face another afternoon, he considers himself not simply a cancer survivor, but a cancer fighter.

Perhaps symbolic of what's going on now, as each funded agency has to fight for its future.

“Without someone helping me, I can't be where I am to help someone else,” said Rodney.

The Child Poverty Collaborative announced several other initiatives as well.

Among them: A family mentoring program is expected to be up and running in June.

Also, many local businesses plan to re-examine policies for entry-level employees.

However, there have been no commitments for better pay and benefits yet.

The collaborative also will lobby state lawmakers to expand eligibility for child care subsidies.

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