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Senator not pleased with cuts to rural non-profits

September 1, 2012
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - District 21 Sen. Gary Dahms expressed his frustration Friday to funding cuts that will hit area non-profits.

The Minnesota Office of Justice Program changed its grant award process for set allocation dollar amounts, and after receiving fewer dollars from the Legislature, will allocate about $1.5 million less in fiscal year 2013 than in FY12. That has left both New Horizons Crisis Center and Women's Rural Advocacy Programs reeling.

WRAP will see a 45 percent cut in funding for FY13 and has to let go one of its four employees. For New Horizons, it means a 25 percent decrease in its workforce, a lesser presence at Southwest Minnesota State University and a total loss of $83,000 in state funding.

The OJP awards Crime Victim Services grants to provide direct services and advocacy for victims of sexual assault, general crime, domestic violence and child abuse.

The OJP had $30.7 million to grant out to more than 150 organizations that applied for a total of nearly $40 million in funding, including requests from 12 new agencies. Of the 151 applications, 126 were funded.

Fewer dollars afforded to OJP by a Legislature trying to fix a $5 billion budget problem meant a reallocation of funding that left southwest Minnesota agencies like NHCC and WRAP feeling the pinch.

The inability of the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton to compromise on a solution ultimately led to a three-week state government shutdown.

"In the budget process, we reduced the Office of Justice by 4 percent across the board," said District 16 (formerly District 21) Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls. "That's the budget we presented."

Dahms said the Legislature wanted non-profits like NHCC and WRAP to be spared as much as possible but said Dayton would not agree to those groups being held harmless when it came to reductions.

"We made it very clear we didn't want these dollars cut," Dahms said. "The percentage of cuts these folks took appears to be quite higher than what other groups in the Office of Justice took. I think it's very unfortunate when an organization plays groups against each other like that."

In the end, it was the OJP, not the Legislature that decided what agencies would experience cuts, said Dahms. In looking at how southern Minnesota came out in the end, Dahms isn't satisfied with the funding distribution, even though the OJP insists that it's not a rural vs. metro issue.

"That sounds good, but let's be realistic," he said. "I think everybody can figure out what's going on. These folks were the ones who divided the funding, and these organizations were cut considerably more than other groups."

With another projected budget deficit looming, Dahms said one alternative that might help prevent certain non-profits from being singled out is to have the Legislature determine cuts in the future.

"We don't know for sure what kind of deficit we're going to have; certainly it won't be as severe as two years ago, but if this is the way the Office of Justice handles cuts I guess we'll have to determine where the cuts are going to go. I think an agency ought to have the authority to manage cuts, but if they don't want to do it respectfully there's another alternative. If we're going to start singling out groups and really start to take a lot of funds away from them, maybe we need to be involved in the legislative body."

Jeri Boisvert, the director of the OJP, said the change to an open, competitive process - which hadn't been used in more than a decade - was required after the office received complaints about grant funding from the Legislature and from programs throughout the state.

"We made our intentions known to everybody, worked together and developed a best practices manual," she said. "We ran a sample application process where organizations completed their application, and our staff gave them specific feedback and how they could improve their application. We were very cautious to be as respectful as we could."

Boisvert noted that this isn't the first time OJP has received less funding dollars from the Legislature. She said that from 2008-13, the OJP had a roughly 12-percent cut in state funding.

"We use state and federal money to support these groups, and we had some federal funding to help mitigate our losses, but this year we were down $1.5 million," she said. "We had to make cuts to many programs to stay within the budget the best we can."



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