Council Commits to Doubling Human Services Fund

City Council on Nov. 13 unanimously passed a motion committing $1.5 million more to the city’s Human Services fund in its next budget, doubling the fund’s size.

City Council on Nov. 13 unanimously passed a motion committing $1.5 million more to the city’s Human Services fund in its next budget, doubling the fund’s size.

The increase is part of an ongoing rethinking of the city’s human services funding. But with this change in focus, some of the 54 organizations that receive support from the fund could see some cuts in the next budget if their services fall outside the new priorities.

A working group headed by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson and Vice Mayor David Mann suggests focusing first and foremost on two major areas: increasing gainful employment and reducing homelessness, splitting the fund down the middle for those purposes.

The changes won’t take place for another six months, kicking in with the new fiscal year, giving organizations and the city time to adjust to the new budget priorities.

“Number one, we wanted to make sure to increase how much we put into human services each year,” says Mann, who helped draw up the proposal, “and secondly that we focus on a few significant areas and see if we can’t make progress there instead of trying to shotgun amongst many programs.”

It’s a step toward restoring funding for human services to 1.5 percent of the city’s operating budget, a long-term goal for the city that CityBeat pointed out in 2013 had not been met in a decade (“Poor Priorities,” issue of July 31, 2013).

Currently, the city’s $1.5 million human services fund accounts for just .42 percent of the city’s $358 million budget.

In the past, the city has made deep cuts to the fund. The boost would raise the fund’s proportion of the budget to .84 percent. Simpson and others, including Mann, say they hope to get back to 1.5 percent as more funding becomes available.

Simpson says the working group included advice from the United Way, which currently helps the city evaluate programs it is funding, as well as community members and various boards like the Human Services Advisory Committee and the Community Development Advisory Board, which oversees how federal Community Development Block Grants are spent.

Some council members, including Chris Seelbach, asked council to consider standardizing the way anti-poverty money is doled out.

“All of us have agencies that we’re somewhat close to, and it’s not fair to pick them over others,” Seelbach said, a reference to recent moves that have shifted money from some nonprofits to others outside the normal budget process. “So if we can put them all in a fair, non-political process like the United Way, I think the city’s better for it.”

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