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Nevada County nonprofit funding in jeopardy

John Orona
Staff Writer

Nevada County nonprofits, forced to change their operations and adapt services to meet the community’s changing needs in the middle of pandemic, are in limbo.

While local community service organizations have managed to respond to the immediate crisis, their future funding and the stability it brings to people in need are uncertain.

According to the National Council of Nonprofits, most nonprofits get just 10% of their funding from individual donations, while about 80% comes from government grants, contracts and fees for services.

The FREED Center of Independent Living, which supports independence and self-determination for seniors and people with disabilities, received about 59% of its $1.47 million budget last year from the state Department of Rehabilitation and federal Department of Health and Human Services.

An additional 25% of its funding came from other grants and contracts, which could also include money from the state or federal government apportioned through counties, while 3% came from fundraising.

According to FREED Executive Director Ana Acton, a proposed 20% funding cut for individual living resources in the recent May revision to the state’s budget are concerning for the community.

“We do have some donations and fundraising, but the majority of our funding is state and federal,” Acton said. “The concern is the current budget proposal cuts funding to multiple different community-based services that keep people living in their homes in a lower level of care.”

As the pandemic has forced the organization to change the way it serves clients — like interacting remotely — the specter of future funding cuts has forced a conversation about how much its services will change in the future.

“After any major event like this it’s important to not just go back to ‘normal,’” Acton said. “We’re trying to build our infrastructure and our services in a way that will meet the changing times and the needs in the community.”

Acton said while some changes have been beneficial, allowing staff to work from home and engage clients they may not normally serve, she’s unsure how much will be maintained without a firm projection of what their funding will allow.


Other nonprofits, like Child Advocates of Nevada County, agreed that next year funding from both the government and the public will be hard to predict. The organization provides education, prevention, support, and advocacy services for children at risk of neglect and abuse, and also relies largely on state contracts.

The group had to cancel its annual luncheon this year, which typically contributes $20,000 to its $1.2 million budget.

Child Advocates Executive Director Marina Bernheimer said many of the organization’s programs rely on building connections with families, and that has continued despite adaptations. Since the pandemic, Child Advocates has turned its Healthy Babies Program — which supplies families with resources for food, abuse and counseling through in-home visits — into a phone-banking clearinghouse of information on COVID-19 resources.

“We’re able to form really caring, nonjudgmental relationships with families in order to deliver services,” Bernheimer said. “We’re absolutely keeping in touch with the hundreds of families we serve, and shifting into a critical role of spreading information resources about the pandemic as well as resources available to them.”

The organization has also continued its Court Appointed Special Advocate program, which pairs children removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect with volunteer mentors who ensure their needs are being met and wishes are known to the court.

While they’ve had to keep in touch over the phone or through video, Bernheimer said they are making regular contact. She is, however, worried about children suffering from abuse now, while sheltering in place.

“Children are identified when they’re out in the community, because a teacher or a coach or a neighbor sees them and has a concern that there is abuse occurring,” Bernheimer said. “Because everybody is in their home, the eyes of our community is not on our kids, so we’re not able to identify them.”


Bernheimer said the organization has trained a cohort of 10 volunteers to step in when the shelter in place is over, as she expects a spike in cases.

“We know that for some of these kids school represented a safe haven and a refuge from dysfunctional families,” Bernheimer said. “We’re terribly concerned about kids who are sheltering in place in homes that are unsafe with parents that have more stresses than there were before the pandemic.”

While Child Advocates is able to fund itself through contracts this year, Bernheimer said she’s also worried about how the economic downturn will affect the community’s ability to fund its work.

“We’re worried about community support, with people not throwing money at nonprofits right now,” she said. “Our services will be needed more than ever after the pandemic because of financial and mental health issues that families are enduring.”

Local funding like the Nevada County Relief Fund, set to disburse its first $100,000 to small businesses and nonprofits next week, may help immediately. However, nonprofits are ultimately looking for sustainable funding for long-term programming.

FREED was awarded some federal funding in response to COVID-19, but Acton said that won’t make up for the loss of ongoing funding.

“The CARES Act funding is very specific to COVID-19,” Acton said. “We’re seeing an increase in need in the community, so those funds are being used in new ways, and they’re short-term funding, so that’s not going to be available on an ongoing basis, but there’s the potential for the state budget cuts could be ongoing.”

Acton said while many things are yet to be settled, initial signs do not look good.

“The impact of the economy due to COVID-19 and how it will affect nonprofits going forward still remains to be seen,” she said. “If the current state budget is any indication, there’s significant cuts being proposed from many different areas, including disability and aging services.”


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To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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