Liane Eastman, a home health and hospice nurse with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, visits with longtime Steamboat Springs resident Naomi Arnold at her home Friday. The VNA received less than half of the funding requested from United Way this year because of donation shortfalls.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Liane Eastman, a home health and hospice nurse with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, visits with longtime Steamboat Springs resident Naomi Arnold at her home Friday. The VNA received less than half of the funding requested from United Way this year because of donation shortfalls.

Budget crunch hits United Way

Health and human services agencies work through fewer donations, more needs

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Editor's note: Lynaia South Orr's name was misspelled in the original version of this article. The online version of the story has been updated to reflect the correction.

As funding sources dry up, Routt County health and human services agencies are considering restructuring the programs and services they offer.

Routt County United Way is about $125,000 short of its fundraising goal for 2009, meaning the umbrella funding organization for local health and human services agencies was able to allocate about $125,000 less to those agencies for this year than it was in 2008.

For some agencies - such as the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association - the gap between funds requested and funds allocated was significant. The VNA requested $85,000 in United Way allocations for 2009 and received $40,000. In 2008, the agency received the $85,000 allocation it requested.

"VNA provides pretty extensive community health services for people from all walks of life," said Sue Birch, chief executive officer for the VNA. "And we are scrambling with this news as well as forecasts from state government about impending cuts and how that will impact our services to the most vulnerable populations."

The allocation process

The decision to cut the VNA's allocation was a difficult one, said Routt County United Way Executive Director Kelly Stanford.

"They took a big hit from us this year," Stanford said. "It was felt by the allocation committee that they were probably in a better position to absorb a cut than some of the smaller agencies might have been."

With less money to give, the United Way allocation committee had dozens of tough decisions this year.

The organization's 2009 fundraising campaign has raised $474,000 in contributions and documented pledges, falling about 20 percent short of its $600,000 fundraising goal, Stanford said. After deducting operating costs, the United Way allocations committee set a budget of $350,000 - an amount Stanford said the committee was confident it could meet, even if it sees a downfall in payroll deduction pledges as donating employees are lost or laid off.

"Our board really wanted to set an allocation amount that we felt confident that we could meet throughout the year," Stanford said.

United Way received about $500,000 in allocations requests for 2009. Because of the limited budget, no agency received its request in full.

Integrated Community requested $17,250 and received $7,500. First Impressions of Routt County requested $122,000 and received $100,000. Rocky Mountain Youth Corps requested $19,500 and received $8,500. The Yampa Valley Autism Program requested $10,000 and received $2,500.

The allocation committee considered each agency's impact on the community along with the United Way's impact on that agency, Stanford said.

"Our board was very aware that for some agencies more than for others, our funding is a significant part of what supports their services," Stanford said.

The effect of decreased funding

Birch said she understands the magnitude of need for health and human services in Steamboat Springs. But that doesn't make her less worried about what reduced funding from all sides - federal, state and local governments, services fees, the United Way and other granting organizations - could do to the services VNA provides.

"We anticipate that we're going to have a restructuring of several of our programs to deal with the loss of the funds," Birch said. Her areas of concern include programs for the elderly, children and pregnant women.

"If you have a pregnancy or if you have a parent that's declining and needs homecare, there's only so long that people can wait for our services before adverse events occur," Birch said.

Going into the spring mud season, the United Way plans to reignite its fundraising efforts for 2009, said Lynaia South Orr, United Way campaign chairwoman for 2009. If that fundraising goes well, the United Way board hopes to be able to give local agencies more funding later in the year, Stanford said.

Running through the list of agencies that are affected by a decrease in funding and an increase in demand, South Orr highlighted a spike in assistance provided by LIFT-UP of Routt County, an increase in uninsured patients at local medical centers and an uptake in emergency calls received by Steamboat Mental Health.

"These needs don't go away simply because we did not meet our goal," South Orr said.

Increased need

David Freseman, executive director for LIFT-UP, sees his agency's needs increasing as the year goes on.

LIFT-UP requested $16,000 and received $15,000. United Way grants are not a huge part of the organization's budget; Freseman estimated the amount at about 5 percent. But LIFT-UP, like many health and human services agencies, made an allocation request similar to what it got in 2008 - before demand for its services skyrocketed, Freseman said.

"Even if we received the $16,000 request, we're still going to see a lot more expense than we anticipated," Freseman said. In January, the LIFT-UP Food Bank gave out more than 1,100 bags of food, a record for the nonprofit organization. In 2008, LIFT-UP provided almost $100,000 more assistance than it did in 2007.

"We see that increased demand, and we see it continuing and increasing from those kind of numbers," Freseman said.

Fundraising to continue

Stanford and South Orr also see need for services such as food bank and housing assistance increasing through 2009.

"There's an increasing concern among the health and human services agencies that we'll get into mud season and we'll see people trapped, unemployed or underemployed," Stanford said.

Those concerns play a part in efforts that include an extended donor campaign and possible fundraising events this spring.

"We have typically been a fall fundraising campaign, but we're not giving up on meeting our goal or the needs," South Orr said. "So that does mean that we have had to look at really extending our focus on fundraising for the whole year."

The group plans to focus on educating the community about the increased need and how United Way hopes to alleviate it, South Orr said.

"We're honestly brainstorming any and all ideas to meet the critical needs that our community is facing," she said.

A chunk of the United Way's 2009 campaign is based on workplace pledges - payroll deductions made by current employees of local businesses. That campaign was successful this year, and United Way got pledges from a few businesses it hadn't worked with before, Stanford said. But a shaky economy can mean an uncertain outlook for employment, South Orr said.

"Our concern is that as businesses have to lay people off, that these pledges will evaporate," South Orr said. "That's another reason why we can't rely on our fall campaign season, and we must move to a year-round campaign program so that people know what United Way does for its agencies and for people every day."

Stanford said United Way plans to collect tangible information about how local agencies will be affected by their 2009 allocations in the coming weeks.

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