A report released today by the Milwaukee-based Public Policy Forum examines trends in public funding for several programs deemed critical to community development in low-income City of Milwaukee neighborhoods. The analysis finds that funding for most programs has decreased in both real and inflationary terms, intensifying pressure on community-based organizations to find efficiencies and on private philanthropy to fill the gap.
“Annual funding totals are at least 10% lower now than they were before the recession for seven of the nine programs we examined,” says the report. “While we did not analyze data regarding the number of households or individuals served by every program, and while our analysis did not examine the extent to which service providers were able to replace lost public funding with funding from other sources, it is reasonable to assume that those funding cuts resulted in service reductions for several of the programs.”
The report was commissioned by the Zilber Family Foundation and United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County in response to concerns raised by neighborhood-based organizations regarding the stability of key public funding sources that support their programs. In an attempt to verify and quantify those concerns, the Forum examined public funding trends for nine heavily utilized programs in three broad service categories: housing and development; education and workforce development; and health and human services.
The programs included in the analysis were selected based on conversations with community development leaders in the three Milwaukee neighborhoods served by the Zilber Neighborhood Initiative – Clarke Square, Lindsay Heights, and Layton Boulevard West. They are:
- Community Development Block Grants
- HOME Investment Partnerships Program
- Weatherization Assistance Partnerships Program Head Start
- Title 1
- 21st Century Community Learning Centers
- Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
- Community Services Block Grants
- Substance abuse grants
For each program, the report provides information on how government appropriations at the federal and state levels make their way to Milwaukee and its neighborhoods and how funding for services in Milwaukee have been impacted in recent years by overall programmatic cuts or increases. The timeframe used – 2007 to 2015 – is long enough to illustrate funding changes that have occurred from before the Great Recession to the present.
“The boards of directors of the Zilber Family Foundation and United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County are committed to meeting basic human needs and improving the quality of life in Milwaukee neighborhoods. The data in this Public Policy Forum report show that, in tough economic times, public/private partnerships are needed to ensure that vital services are available to communities,” said Susan Lloyd, executive director of the Zilber Family Foundation.
Other key findings from the report included the following:
While reduced appropriations tell part of the story, the re-direction of federal or state dollars from Milwaukee to other parts of the state also is a factor. For some Milwaukee programs, funding decreased despite increased appropriations at the federal and/or state level. The recession increased the ranks of those deemed to be low-income throughout Wisconsin. Since many of the programs examined in the report serve low-income households, that factor produced a shift of funding away from Milwaukee and toward other areas of the state.
To sustain current service levels, efforts will be needed to supplement declining federal resources with local public funding, private sector support, or through service innovations. This is already happening for some programs. For example, the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board has grown its overall budget despite declining federal workforce dollars, Milwaukee Public Schools contributes annual funding to afterschool programs to supplement declining federal funds, and Milwaukee County’s Behavioral Health Division has blended some mental health and substance abuse services to offset expired federal grants. Even for those programs, however, additional solutions may be needed if there is a desire to maintain services at current levels.
“It is important to recognize that trends in public funding tell only part of the story when it comes to assessing the capacity of community-based agencies and local governments to effectively deliver needed services to Milwaukee neighborhoods,” says the report . “Service capacity also can be impacted by program efficiency, amounts spent on overhead, programmatic innovations, and a variety of other factors that go beyond dollars and cents.”
“Nevertheless, we can conclude from this analysis that reports of steadily shrinking public sector appropriations for community-based services in Milwaukee are more than anecdotal. Consequently, there may be an increasing need for philanthropists and/or other private sources to fill at least part of the void.”
The full report can be downloaded at the Forum’s web site, www.publicpolicyforum.org.