Cutbacks Force Non Profits to Feud over Funds
Life + Money

Cutbacks Force Non Profits to Feud over Funds

Christinne Muschi / Reuters

Federal and state government officials aren’t the only ones sparring with each other over impending budget cuts: non-profit organizations are also getting into the ring.
Do-gooder organizations like The Meals on Wheels Association of America, which are funded through a mix of public and private donations and government grants to provide services the government can’t or won’t, are contending with a shrinking pot of money from both sources.  The funding crunch is making for ever-testier relations between nonprofit groups which advocate for different causes but compete for the same resources, which are all but sure to dwindle more as the federal government grapples with a $1.3 trillion deficit.
“This biggest problem facing the nonprofit business today is that we are all competing against each other like never before and it’s crazy,” Meals on Wheels’ CEO Enid Borden told The Fiscal Times. Thoughts of how budget cuts could cost many vulnerable populations, including seniors, their livelihood keep Borden up at night, but so does the idea that the nonprofit sector is becoming so cutthroat.  “We are at war with ourselves, and we ought not to be…these are American problems we are all trying to address. Why not sit down with likeminded nonprofits and devise better ways to do things together?”

“When you look at the face of a child who’s hungry, and the face of a senior who’s hungry, that child’s face is actually much more appealing.”

Nonprofits had a particularly rough year in 2011.  According to a study from the Nonprofit Research Collaborative, 59 percent reported that donation income was the same or lower in 2011 than it was in 2010. For those that receive some government funding, more than half say that income declined in 2011 over the previous year.

While Borden says it’s unfair to pit one cause or demographic against another, she worries her organization, which feeds millions of hungry seniors, could be on the losing end of the battle for lawmakers’ hearts and wallets.  “When you look at the face of a child who’s hungry, and the face of a senior who’s hungry, that child’s face is actually much more appealing,” Borden said.  “But somebody always takes care of children.

When you’re born, it may be your mother or father, or if that child is in foster care there’s somebody there to take care of you.  But who takes care of the older person? They are home-bound, often shut-in, can’t wait on line at the food bank or welfare office, and food stamps don’t benefit them.”

From a numbers standpoint, far more governmental welfare programs exist for children than seniors. They include health and nutrition programs like WIC, Head Start, the National School Lunch Program, and federal after school initiatives.  To be sure, seniors are the prime recipients of two of the largest non-discretionary parts of the federal budget: Medicare and Social Security, which collectively accounted for about 35 percent of federal spending in 2010.

But according to Borden, keeping Meals on Wheels well-funded is one way to keep Medicare costs down in the future. “It makes much more financial and common sense to keep these seniors in their homes, well-fed, and well-hydrated,” she said.  Meals on Wheels can feed a senior five days a week for one year for $1,394, according to the organization. In 2012, Medicare will get billed $136 per emergency room visit on average, with the beneficiary paying a $30 copayment, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


The notion of cost-savings isn’t always daunting to nonprofit leaders like Borden, who says she’s not adverse to identifying cuts within her own organization to keep the wheels turning. Introducing cost-sharing is one bold idea she endorses.  Currently, anyone age 60 or older can receive hot meals through the program, regardless of how wealthy they are. But there’s no reason why that can’t change, Borden said. “Not everybody who is in need of a meal is poor,” Borden says. “There’s Meals on Wheels in Beverly Hills! If you can afford it, shouldn’t you be paying for it so you can help your neighbor who can’t afford it? This is a notion whose time has come.”