The Greater Twin Cities United Way plans to partly close a $6 million fundraising shortfall this year by eliminating Safety from Family Violence, a $4.5 million domestic violence grant program that had been funded for the next two years.
Stunned managers for 16 local domestic violence programs, many of whom have received United Way dollars for decades, will meet with United Way leaders next week even though they have been told the decision to make the cuts is final. They were notified of the cuts in early April, giving them a short time to plug their own funding gaps.
“A lot of our programs are still just reeling. It was really unexpected,” said Liz Richards, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, which represents the state’s 90 domestic violence service providers. “Some programs are looking at layoffs. Others are looking at the eliminations of programs or securing other dollars.”
United Way President and CEO Sarah Caruso on Friday called the cuts “painful and difficult.” She said staffers based their decision, at the board’s urging, on the United Way’s long-standing emphasis on helping people move out of poverty rather than obtain emergency assistance.
In that same vein, the United Way had stopped funding the Red Cross in recent years, she said.
“We were asked to make cuts strategically,” Caruso said. “... We do not want to fund emergency shelters.”
Nine of the 16 domestic violence programs will still receive some United Way funding from other funding pots, she said, such as affordable housing and other services.
Greater Twin Cities United Way is the largest among 1,200 chapters in the United States. The charity is best known for its workplace giving campaigns, where it partners with companies to urge employees to give and then converts the money into grants to more than 300 programs at 150 nonprofits.
The cuts will eliminate the United Way’s Reading by Third Grade grant program along with the domestic violence program. Funding for all the nonprofits that the local United Way contributes to will be cut by at least 5 percent.
The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women issued a statement on the cuts, saying that “a reduction in staff and services rips away the safety net for people fleeing violent homes.”
‘Some tough decisions’
In April, Caruso announced $6 million in cuts, including grants, nine staff layoffs and an executive salary freeze. She said that while Greater Twin Cities United Way had exceeded its 2016 fundraising goal by $2.2 million, raising a total of $87.6 million, more donors were designating specific charities rather than letting United Way decide how to spend their money.
Twin Cities United Way’s revenue in 2016 was the lowest in seven years and $11 million less than in 2015 — the second straight year that it declined.
“I was prepared for a reduction, but to hear they were eliminating the domestic violence-related funding, I was speechless,” said Patti Tototzintle, CEO of Casa de Esperanza, a shelter and domestic violence program for Hispanic families.
“I was so disappointed. They have been a good funder. They have been a good partner. Because of that, I would have expected much more.”
Tototzintle said United Way had awarded Casa de Esperanza $187,000 a year for a three-year grant cycle, amounting to 13 percent of its local programming budget. She said the staff is now figuring out ways to make up the difference.
Tubman, the state’s largest provider of domestic violence services, will lose $375,000 in annual funding, said CEO Jennifer Polzin. Tubman has more than 20 percent of all shelter beds in Minnesota for adults and children experiencing family violence.
The cut amounts to about 4 percent of Tubman’s annual revenue of $10.4 million. Funds are used for a variety of programs including therapy, legal services and prevention in the schools.
“They had to make some tough decisions with that big of a funding gap,” Polzin said. “It would have been very helpful to know about this earlier so programs have more time to plan.”
She added that little of the United Way funding that Tubman receives goes to cover the cost of shelter.
“It’s used for supportive services in the community like our jobs, education and finance programs, helping people find affordable housing, violence prevention in the schools, mental health therapy and chemical health treatments — things that do provide a pathway out of poverty,” Polzin said.
“I understand the anger and frustration,” Caruso said. “I am willing to take the body blows from angry agencies because I feel our process has such integrity. ... United Way has been around for 100 years, and God willing we will be here for another 100 years.”