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Despite Temporary Fix, Future Of Human Services Funding Still Unclear

Bill Rinehart

Cincinnati City Council is asking the United Way to be involved in funding recommendations for the city's human services dollars for up to another year. But what happens after that is unclear and still being debated. 

Some council members want the United Way to stay involved in the process. Others are pushing for the funding decisions to return to City Hall and let administrators make them using a competitive process.

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.

The United Way told the city last year it wanted to end the relationship, and this week the agency said it is "committed to a transition process that is the least disruptive towards community organizations and the vulnerable city residents they serve."

Council Member David Mann said the action that council took Thursday will do a couple of things:

"One, that we want to make sure that we don't create chaos for agencies that are in the midst of their contract year," Mann said "Number two, we look forward to the administration's thoughts about how to proceed after the next 12 months."

The administration said in December the path forward involves three options: council makes the funding decisions, city administrators make the selections, or find another third party to do what the United Way has been doing.

Council Member Tamaya Dennard has been pushing for another party or the city to determine what human services agencies are funded. She voted to extend the United Way contract for up to a year, but she doesn't support a longer time period.

"The fact of the matter is not enough black-led organizations and small organizations are getting funded. Those are facts," Dennard said. "We just need to do something different. And we just keep doing the same stuff and we're just like, 'Hey, it's OK. It's alright.' It's not OK. Our communities are suffering."

Council Member Wendell Young agrees it's time to go in a different direction, and said that new direction should happen in one year.

"I, for one, cannot see a problem with placing a timeline on our search to do better," Young said. "And I don't think that a year is too much to ask for, I think more than a year is more than we need to deal with. And I'm not convinced that our administration cannot find a way within that time constraint, to help us find another way."

Mayor John Cranley supports keeping the United Way involved in the human services funding process.  He said the agency has been unfairly criticized for not funding smaller or black-led organizations. He said if that's what council wants to happen, then it should change the funding priorities.

"City Council sets the priorities every year," Cranley said. "If we want to put together a category that directs that a certain percent of this money go to organizations with a certain board make up or executive leadership of a certain background - African American, women, etc. - totally reasonable. And I believe that the United Way or any third-party administration will do their best to meet that objective that City Council identifies."

Currently the city spends about $5 million a year to support human services agencies. The goals: reduce homelessness; workforce development; addiction prevention; violence prevention; senior services; and supporting anti-poverty efforts.

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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.