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Feb 9, 2024
Posted Under: Advocacy President's letter

Last month we rolled out our public policy priorities for 2024. This month I want to share more about this work and call your attention to some specific actions we need from each of you.

Back in 2009, Foraker formally became the state nonprofit association and part of a group of 42 peer organizations across the country. This action not only validated our role in the convening and research but it also got us thinking differently about our role in public policy. Our signature effort to that point had been publishing nonprofit economic reports, and writing the original legislation and hiring the lobbyist to create what is now Pick.Click.Give. We didn’t engage much in public policy until I became CEO in 2015. Since then, we have taken part in extraordinary efforts including the formation of a national model of census advocacy we call the Alaska Census Working Group, which launched AlaskaCounts in 2020 and will resume its work in 2030. The 2020 Census numbers ensure that Alaska nonprofits had access to $50 million+ of direct pandemic relief funds from CARES, ARPA, and even more indirectly from specific pass-through and local government partnerships across Alaska and now partnering with the Alaska Municipal League (AML) and others to host the website to track federal infrastructure funding coming into Alaska. We also ramped up our advocacy training and engagement across Alaska to support nonprofits in finding their own voices and standing for their missions as partners to government and within their communities. Truly the list of ways we have exercised our nonpartisan voice on behalf of the nonprofit sector and tribes in Alaska has been exhilarating and sometimes heartbreaking but always interesting.

We don’t make any choices lightly about which issues to tackle. We have a thoughtful process to determine our public policy priorities. These are not just while the legislature is in session, but certainly, our ability to make significant progress ramps up during the session.

Today, there is one priority I want to call out specifically. In a rare move, the Foraker boards have approved a resolution in concurrence with the Alaska Municipal League to call on the State of Alaska to provide prompt payment parity to nonprofits, tribes, and local governments as they do with for-profit businesses or risk penalties and interest, but more importantly, to have clear lines for accountability not just for us but for them.

The lack of prompt payment by the state to nonprofits and local governments has been an issue for years, but the scope and scale of the delays are now untenable. To be clear, this is not about asking for new money. These are budgeted and approved funds the state has failed to pay on time in far too many cases – grants, contracts, and reimbursements – generally, three-to-six months late or longer, while at the same time asking for reports about how money was spent that was never received just to stay in the queue for the next disbursement of funds. This process is stressful, time-consuming, and burdensome to everyone involved, but more than that this money pays for essential services like domestic violence shelter employees, senior citizen care coordination, behavioral health providers, local transportation providers, food pantry supplies, substance abuse services, arts and culture opportunities, educators, childcare providers, and so many others. This lack of prompt payment is not just in one department of state government – it happens in virtually every state department, which means it is a systemic problem. Foraker has tried for years to bring this issue to the attention of those we believed could fix the problem, but it not only persists, it continues to get worse.

While I encourage you to read the whole resolution, the bottom line is this: Alaska’s nonprofits, tribes, and municipalities are essential partners with the state. Because of our unique geographic and demographic profile, we provide services that the state otherwise could not provide, or if it did, the cost would be astronomical. Through grants, contracts, and reimbursements to nonprofits and tribes, the state expands its reach, finds efficiencies, and can improve the quality of life for all Alaskans.

In the same way that roads and bridges are built through contracts with private sector engineering and construction firms, the state meets many of its obligations by outsourcing to nonprofits and tribes. Our communities rely on the dedication and solvency of Alaska’s nonprofits. Prompt payment is an essential part of the economic ecosystem, ensuring this vital network remains healthy and helpful. Delayed payments result in degradation of service and in some cases bankruptcy. And temporary solutions like tapping into savings accounts, laying off employees, or halting service are simply not viable. And the quality of life for all Alaskans suffers.

As always, we want to be part of a solution, not just lend our voice to identifying the problem. For many years we and many individual organizations have tried a variety of strategies to find solutions to delayed payment that are both good for the state and good for our sector, but the reality is that this issue is complicated and systemic, reaching into each department. Therefore, it requires a systemic solution that works both for the state and all those they partner with to deliver services.

We are ready with a list of ways to make the situation better for now, and to fix the problem for good. We understand the solutions will come through dialog and action, and we are committed to the journey no matter how long it takes. If necessary, we have model legislation from other states that we believe will work in Alaska. We remain committed to working constructively to achieve a bicameral, bipartisan approach to find solutions before we break Alaska’s safety net.

We need your voice on behalf of the sector

Since our most recent visit to the Capitol and through our extensive outreach, we understand that several legislators who have brought up the subject of delayed payments during recent committee hearings were provided with encouraging statistics from the state about recent average turnaround times to process grant payments. This is encouraging and we applaud every effort that the state employees are making to fix these issues. That said, we continue to believe the problem is real, systemic, and more sweeping than grant turnaround time in a couple of departments. This is where your voice matters.

You can help in two ways:

  1. Add to our robust collection of direct accounts from every corner of the state if your organization is experiencing, or has experienced, delayed payments and as a result has been forced to dip into modest reserves, furlough staff, tap lines of credit, shut down programs, or take other action. We can keep your specific organization name confidential. We need your voice, and we promise to protect it. Will you share it with us? Contact us.
  2. We know many of you are also sharing your stories directly with elected officials, which is great, and we encourage you to talk about Foraker’s Legislative Resolution so that your story becomes connected to a larger effort underway. If you do that, will you let us know? Contact us.

We know work like this takes time and effort and lots of partners all working toward the same goal. We feel confident that if we are successful, it will mean less burden on the state and its many hard-working employees, more efficient government, better systems for Alaska for the long-term, and most importantly services available for Alaskans when they need them the most. I hope we can count on you to be on this journey with us. We are stronger together.