The latest confirmation that state lawmakers were right to raise taxes this year comes from a recent report from the National Council of Nonprofits in Washington and touted by its state counterpart, the N.C. Center for Nonprofits.
The report indirectly makes a strong case that the General Assembly didn’t raise taxes enough this session to prevent damaging budget cuts to programs that provide services to the most vulnerable people in the state.
The Council pulled together results of recent surveys and evaluations from across the country of how nonprofits are faring in the recession. It’s a clear and gloomy picture.
The majority of nonprofits, including organizations that provide direct services, not only are being forced to operate with less funding, they are experiencing much higher demands for their services.
Both corporate and individual contributions are down significantly, many foundations have scaled back their grantmaking or suspended it altogether, and fee for service programs are sputtering. State lawmakers reduced state funding for nonprofits at the same time they slashed funding for state services.
The Smoky Mountain News recently profiled a 62-year-old woman from Waynesville with serious kidney problems who had her hours cut at work and cannot afford to buy insurance.
She gets treatment at the Good Samaritan Clinic in Haywood County. The clinic has cut its services by 40 percent and is accepting no new patients after its county funding was slashed.
A Fayetteville youth mentoring program lost a third of its operating budget when state funding was cut. The model program will now only be able to help 60 percent as many kids as last year, leaving the rest at much greater risk of struggling in the classroom and dropping out of school.
Even the troubled and understaffed state mental hospitals are feeling the pain. The budget cut 351 positions from the institutions and millions more from in-home services that help keep people out of hospitals.
This in a system in which almost a third of patients who leave a mental hospital never receive a follow-up contact to set up their community services, leaving many to show up at homeless shelters that are also struggling with shrinking revenues.
There are very few nonprofits that can help with services. Many of the ones that had the capacity don’t have it any more after budget cuts and fewer contributions and grants.
Nonprofits are part of the private sector that is supposed to step in when the anti-government forces prevail and public funding is slashed. Or when political considerations trump the reality of the struggles of families in many communities who can no longer make ends meet, and whose ranks have exploded during the economic downturn.
The woman in Haywood County is somebody to remember when Republican legislative leaders say that the General Assembly did not have to raise taxes to balance the budget. So are the kids in Cumberland County, now at greater risk of dropping out of school.
And the people with mental illness or a developmental disability, who now have fewer people taking care of them in state institutions and fewer services in their communities to help them when they are released.
The private sector cannot maintain a safety net. For-profit companies have no interest. Non-profits have no money. It is our government that must take care of people who desperately need help, who show up at free clinics and homeless shelters. No other institution can do it.
Things would be much worse if lawmakers had listened to demands to resist any tax increases and only slashed and burned to address the state budget crisis. That’s little solace to the people now being turned away when they seek help.
But at the very least, their pain ought to be enough to dismiss the ludicrous claims of those travelling around the state telling people that taxes did not have to be raised. The truth is they were not raised enough to prevent the suffering that is our shame.