United Way cuts are coming

Giving was down by about $5 million in '09 and some services will suffer - but officials were still satisfied with the $85 million raised.


Eddie Hughes, 43, of Minneapolis worked with Katie LeVoir, a Courage Center occupational therapist, on Tuesday to regain the use of muscles in his right arm and hand. He is on medical assistance following a stroke in October 2008. Courage Center receives funds from the United Way..

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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The Greater Twin Cities United Way raised $5 million less in its 2009 fundraising campaign than in the previous two years, and that will be felt in cuts to some programs.

The agency announced Tuesday that it raised an estimated $84.9 million in its recent campaign. As a result, it will cut $2.3 million from its annual budget for independent living services to the disabled and elderly, and another $1.8 million for domestic violence programs. Any savings is being shifted to core programs -- such as housing and food -- to help Minnesotans hit by the recession.

United Way leaders said they were satisfied with the campaign, particularly because it took place during one of the toughest recessions in memory.

"Given the current economic challenges faced by so many community agencies, we are pleased to be able to maintain funding for 98 percent of our grantees,'' said Frank Forsberg, senior vice president of community impact.

But nonprofit groups that assist disabled Minnesotans say the announcement, coming a day after Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed cutting millions of dollars in state funding for disabled and elderly services, is disheartening.

"These budget cuts keep accumulating,'' said Steve Larson, chairman of the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens With Disabilities. "We lost about $500 million in services from [state] government since 2003. Foundations are also cutting back on services for the disabled.

"We've done an excellent job getting people out of institutions,'' Larson said, "but without services, that could change.''

Two of 10 'priority areas' cut

United Way officials said they've worked hard to cushion the blow to the nonprofits they serve. For the first time, it pulled $4 million from its reserves to support programs. It also cut its own operational budget by $1.5 million last year, mainly by not filling job vacancies.

While its "priority areas" of independent living and domestic violence saw funding cuts, budgets for the remaining eight high-priority areas remained stable, Forsberg stressed. Those include hunger, homelessness and preventative health.

The United Way is a major source of nongovernmental funding for disabled services in the Twin Cities, said Jan Malcolm, CEO of Courage Center in Golden Valley. Malcolm, who serves on an advisory committee to United Way, said philanthropy increasingly is having to pick up services once funded by the government. That makes philanthropic budget cuts particularly hard.

"Everyone is focused on basic needs,'' Malcolm said. "But we think keeping people who are healthy and living in communities is a core need, too.''

United Way officials said they are not backing off from services to the disabled and domestic violence victims.

The agency will spend $4.8 million in each of the next three years to keep elderly and disabled Minnesotans in their homes with support services, funding 43 programs.

It also will spend $4 million annually for three years to support safe shelter for domestic violence victims, legal aid services and prevention programs for men. That is the state's biggest nongovernmental funding source for those services, United Way officials said.

Nonprofits await the news

United Way released its fundraising figures days before it plans to notify nonprofits about its grant decisions on projects for the disabled, elderly and victims of domestic violence.

Arc Greater Twin Cities, which receives about a quarter of its $4.3 million annual budget from United Way, is among the groups eager to learn how it fared.

"For those of us who don't get a significant amount of government funding, this is the foundation on which we build,'' said Kim Keprios, CEO of Arc Greater Twin Cities, which provides advocacy and support to people with disabilities and their families.

Nationally, United Way fundraising was down about 5 percent in 2008, said Tish McCutchen, communications director for United Way Worldwide, based in Alexandria, Va. The Twin Cities campaign was also down 5 percent.

Figures for 2009 campaigns nationwide won't be available until this spring, she said.

But collecting nearly $85 million amid one of the worst recessions in the nation's history is nothing to sneeze at, officials said.

Said Forsberg: "Despite tough economic times, donors in the Twin Cities are clearly committed to supporting United Way's efforts to provide a strong safety net of services for our most vulnerable citizens.''

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

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