Commissioner hears nonprofits’ budget concerns

Abdel Shakur

State Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock met with nonprofit organizations at the State Capitol on Wednesday to address their fears of losing funding. But many nonprofit representatives remained concerned grant cuts could cripple their programs.

State officials announced a nearly $2 billion deficit in the state budget Tuesday, prompting a freeze in state grants, many of which finance nonprofits.

“This whole situation has caused a lot of undue fear and confusion,” said Marcia Avner of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.

Avner said uncertainty about which nonprofits will be affected by the freeze has made it almost impossible for them to plan for the coming year.

“We’re going to have to make serious decisions about our budget, but we’re not sure exactly what they’re going to be,” she said.

Avner said the freeze could have a serious impact on communities hit hardest by the economic downturn, which often rely on nonprofits for health and social services.

“If we don’t have these programs, then we’re going to end up paying for it anyway,” she said. “Not only in dollars, but in human misery.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Wheelock said the state was not targeting nonprofits with the freeze and that it affected all new grant agreements.

“You are not being singled out,” Wheelock told the crowd. “We are doing this to give ourselves time to make a planned and rational decision on what we should do.”

Dan Pfarr, director of Bolder Options, said the extensive list of for-profit organizations exempt from the freeze indicates nonprofits are being targeted. Pfarr also said the state’s approach does not reflect reciprocity.

“We are required to give extensive reporting in our grant requests,” he said. “But so far the state has told us very little.”

Bolder Options serves at-risk youth in North Minneapolis. The program hires community members to serve as mentors.

Pfarr said he doesn’t think the administration understands who will be affected by the freeze.

“I’m not worried about myself,” he said. “I can take care of myself. I’m worried about the kids we’re trying to help.”