“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.“ – Henry Ford
We know now that several important items in the state budget survived a second veto by Governor Dunleavy. Still, some critical programs sustained significant cuts. Those include: Public Broadcasting ($2.7 million), Ocean Rangers ($3.4 million), Medicaid ($50 million), Adult Preventative Dental Medicaid ($27 million), Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery Grants ($6.1 million), Adult Public Assistance ($7.5 million), Nome Youth Detention and Treatment Facility ($2 million), Village Public Safety Officer Program ($3 million), Alaska Marine Highway System ($5 million), rural airport maintenance ($47 thousand), and fund capitalization of the Community Assistance Program ($30 million). And even these numbers don’t tell the whole picture. For example, experts estimate that when considering the loss of matching funds and other contributing factors, the $50 million cut to Medicaid is really a $300 million loss. And we know more is coming our way.
While all of us strategize about how to continue our services and ensure that our communities still thrive, many are experiencing fear and exhaustion. We recently conducted a survey on how Alaska nonprofits are responding to the fiscal crisis. Not surprisingly we saw that many are making significant changes including lay-offs and program downsizing while others are considering merger and new ways of delivering service. We noticed a few trends and we heard you need support. We’ve created a guide to help you decide what to do next. We hear you. We are with you.
It’s important to note that part of the budget crisis nonprofits face right now is not new. For some time now, many organizations have been subsidizing the state by waiting for payment for services that were completed in one fiscal year and paid in the next. This delay is unconscionable at any time, but now it seems worse for a few reasons.
First, this marks yet another year of budget cuts that have left our organizations with no margin. It has also put additional pressure on budgets that were already operating in a deficit. We have been doing more with less for so long that doing anything with nothing is simply not possible this time around.
Second, a trend that makes some sense, but we didn’t anticipate, is that groups in the deepest crisis are those led by new staff. Let me be clear, it is not that these new leaders are not qualified to do their jobs – They are and you are. But when you enter an organization and are just learning to navigate a new board relationship and all the other critical relationships you experience, and you are still learning all the factors of running the business, and then you get slammed with a title wave of budget chaos – on a good day this is hard to manage. Multiply that by being new in your job, and the crisis just seems that much worse. Whew! So, let me say this again – clearly. This is not the normal you signed up for, and asking for help is a sign of strength. Know that we continue to stand beside you, and we need to hear from you.
We also need to stand with each other. In the midst of all of this tight rope walking, there are some slippery slopes we need to avoid. I am seeing it and hearing it already, so let’s just call it out so we can navigate our way past the temptations. These are not new ways of thinking, but under stress they amplify. Together they remind me of the idea that sometimes our greatest barrier to success and moving forward is ourselves. Here are four temptations already playing out across our sector:
As a side note for those primarily generating revenue from grants and contracts with government. Scarcity is at play here, too. This is the time to refine our relationship with the state as a contractual partner in serving Alaska. We are in this work together. They need us to do the work in ways that save both time and money – we need to do it in the ways we know best serves Alaska. None of this is fast, but all of it is necessary.
The temptations are real: to silo, to focus on one’s self, to preserve our turf, to believe that we are working at odds, and to stay in crisis. But what I know for sure in this very uncertain time is that our missions are stronger when we work together. I also know that we can only move at the speed of trust to avoid many of these temptations – just calling them out will not be the whole solution. It will take us all – supporting each other – countering the effects of this prolonged stress with connection, creativity, and support. Through it all, we are with you today and into the unknown future.