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Cincinnati Council Divided On How To Distribute Human Services Funds

Jay Hanselman

Cincinnati City Council is still trying to find the future process for funding human services agencies. And right now, there are differing opinions on what to do.

Since 2010, the city has had a contract with United Way to administer the process that removed the city administration from the selections.  

That agency works with an advisory council to make funding recommendations to City Council. Once council approves, the city's Community and Economic Development Department creates contracts with agencies for human services funding.

Current process used by the United Way to administer Cincinnati's human services funding.
Credit Provided / Human Services Chamber of Hamilton County
Human Services Chamber of Hamilton County
Current process used by the United Way to administer Cincinnati's human services funding.

Now the United Way says it wants to end that relationship.

The city manager told council there were three options for going forward: have City Council do it; find another third party to do the work; or let city administrators do it.  

Council Member Greg Landsman is presenting a five-step motion (see below) that would bring the decision-making for human services funds back inside City Hall.

"What we're proposing here is a new path forward that will be results-driven," Landsman said. "And will leverage the professionals here at City Hall; will leverage the performance-based contracting work that we're doing; and ensure that we're having the most impact and getting the best results and it's just good government."

Right now, funding is distributed based on categories:

  • 31.5% to reduce homelessness
  • 31.5% for comprehensive workforce development support
  • 17% for emergency wrap-around services (direct support for anti-poverty programs)
  • 11.5% to addiction prevention
  • 3.5% to violence prevention
  • 3% to senior services

Landsman would change that to results the city wants to achieve with human services funds. He said the difference is subtle but important.

"We want to be results-based and this is what we want to achieve," Landsman said. "We want to increase the number of people who are getting good paying jobs. We want to see a reduction in the number of people who are struggling with addiction. We want to see an increase in the number of people who are getting good quality housing."

Landsman's proposal would have the city work with the United Way for a seamless transition.  

Next, city administrators would seek community input on which results are most important to them and their neighborhood. Council would then vote on the priority results, and administrators would use a competitive process to find individuals or groups who can best achieve those results. Finally, the city would have "performance or results-based" contracts with those agencies.

Landsman said it would be no different that when city administrators issue other city contracts.

"Council and the mayor provide direction but ultimately the professionals do the competitive procurement process to get the best services," Landsman said. "And what I'm suggesting here is that we do human services through that process and in a results-driven way."

Landsman said people who support the "status quo" for making human services funding decision will not like his proposal.

That's just the case for Mayor John Cranley, Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman and Council Members David Mann and Amy Murray.

They've introduced a motion that would have the city maintain its existing relationship with United Way for one more year. Plus, Cranley and Mann are supporting an ordinance that would make the relationship with the United Way permanent.

"We believe that is a good system and it's working," Cranley said during a press conference. "And if anything, the only thing missing is that we would always want to do more than we are and provide as many resources as possible which we have increased dramatically."

Cranley said the United Way offers a "non-political, merit-based process" for making the human service funding decision.

Supporters of this plan say it will cost the city more money to bring the service "in house," and so far the city has not been able to identify a third party who will do what's now being done by United Way.

The United Way process also has the support of the Human Services Chamber of Hamilton County, which represents 65 human services providers in the county.

"We believe that the process that has been used that the United Way has been administering is a fair and transparent process," said Gina Marsh, with the Human Services Chamber. "Now there could be improvements made. We could certainly make it more equitable for smaller agencies and we have some ideas around that."

The city's general fund budget includes $4.8 million of human services funding that's administered through the United Way process.

A council committee is expected to discuss the various options during a meeting Tuesday.

 Motion HSAC by WVXU News on Scribd

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Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.