Grant funding critical to state

Gov. Jesse Ventura’s administration has announced the halt of approximately $200 million in state government grants to nonprofit organizations. The Ventura administration’s poor budgeting has left groups providing a breadth of services such as health care, family planning, meals on wheels – to name a few in limbo – wondering if their essential services will be carried out.

The insistence by Ventura on doling out tax rebate checks since he took office has left the state with the shortfall economists predicted would emerge during an economic downturn. Rather than leave the state with financial reserves adequate to maintain essential programs through tough times when they are needed most, Ventura sacrificed them for political gain.

The final decisions on cutbacks in the state budget have not yet been made, but the warnings to these organizations will make their jobs more difficult even if they do retain funding. For many of these groups, state funding is the primary revenue source. They compete for this money, and effectively rescinding anticipated grants will only exacerbate their problems.

If the funding is eliminated from the budget, some elderly Minnesotans who are unable to leave their homes will not have meals delivered to them. The Annex Teen Clinic will be unable to provide low-cost family planning services. Numerous other organizations from the Minneapolis YWCA to the Minnesota Public Television Association are also waiting for the other shoe to drop.

While the grant funding adds up to a sizeable amount, most individual grants are designed to target specific problems in specific communities. Nonprofit organizations that receive these grants are the fundamental link between the state government and the communities they serve. These organizations are far better suited to help their constituents than ambitious overarching initiatives. But because individually most are too small to attract positive publicity, they are prime candidates for budget cuts. And the cumulative effect of these cuts will be tremendous.

During this recession, the state government will be forced to make difficult funding choices. Because increasing taxes is politically unacceptable, budget cuts are all but a certainty. Ventura’s zealotry in returning every unspent dime to the taxpayers has necessitated such cuts. The easiest place to look for cuts is in programs that are unsexy and small. In the context of the state’s budget, $126,800 is a pittance, but to the teenagers who will not participate in a reproductive health program, the effects could be far more costly. State officials need to find funding alternatives – from cuts elsewhere to debt spending – to ensure that these critical programs maintain their funding and continue to serve the public good.