During the 2006 Minnesota legislative session, one topic that certainly will prevail is the competition for funding dollars. Given the proposed 2007 federal budget cuts, the future looks dismal for local municipalities, state governments, and those organizations dependent on government funding. When government funds shrink, there is an increased competition for grants. There is also a greater reliance on volunteers. They are needed to fill the gaps created by the lack of funding for paid staff.
Unfortunately, the ultimate fallout is on those members of society who are in need. They need housing, healthcare, employment services, vocational rehabilitation services, and other supportive services in order for these individuals to become and continue to be self-supporting members of society. Budget cuts in these critical areas reduce the likelihood that these individuals will move past their current conditions.
A disproportionate percentage of people in our society live in circumstances best described as surviving or just getting by. Who are these individuals? They include people with disabilities, veterans of past and current wars, people suffering a loss (employment, family support system, etc.), children and families, individuals with mental, cognitive and behavioral challenges, those who are chemically dependent or in some stage of chronic alcoholism, and individuals living on general assistance or social security disability insurance benefits.
Employment opportunities provide a means of moving beyond current conditions and envision a future of hope. Where there is hope, there is motivation and determination to succeed.
These employment opportunities that exist for people in need are often low skilled or low paying positions. Although volunteer opportunities help individuals demonstrate and learn new skills, they do not pay the bills. For individuals in need, there is a far greater need for paid employment opportunities than for volunteer opportunities.
For organizations that rely upon volunteers, including those in need of employment, the question needs to be posed: Are the volunteer opportunities really a benefit for those individuals who need paid employment? In addition, there are several factors that need to be considered, such as housing and healthcare costs.
The current demand for Section 8 housing is so great that services are not sufficient to serve the homeless. Therefore, for those individuals struggling to pay their current rent or mortgage, there is no affordable housing options available. Future public housing developments do not come close to closing the gap. With the increased cost of health-care, insurance premiums and co-payments, utilities, gasoline and other necessities, those monthly benefits or low wage employment checks are not sufficient.
Healthcare costs, including provider co-pays, may appear minimal to the working taxpayer. However, for those on a limited income, the co-payments are often times a burden. For those few individuals who do have transportation, travel may be restricted to work, medical appointments and other essentials. The economic barriers prohibit many people from tapping into those networks, even when social and recreational activities are proven to improve physical and mental health.
Individuals with limited mobility are forced to rely on a transportation system that is limited, unpredictable and insufficient. Currently, there is a proposal to dedicate a portion of motor vehicle tax revenue into a transportation fund. Although this may look good on the surface, it is important to remember that those dollars are currently placed in the general fund. The general fund includes housing, education, human resources and other critical areas. With additional cuts pending from the federal budget, can we afford to lose that money from the general fund?
When funding cuts impact non-profits, those organizations increase their appeal to the good will of others. Albeit those causes are noble, how are those donations of money, goods or volunteer labor hours used? How many of those dollars go to support the employment of those in need?
There are no simple answers to the complex interrelated factors that impact those in need. Nonetheless, we as individuals and social entities tend to point our fingers at the government, lobbyists and special interest groups—who have set agendas and priorities.
Perhaps another type of appeal is needed—an appeal to the good will of non-profit organizations and individuals within them. For those organizations that rely on volunteer workers, create an employment fund for individuals in need to help carry a portion of the workload. If every organization commits five hours of paid employment for each 40 hours of volunteer work, this fund could provide paid employment for indi-vidual(s) in need.
Employees or volunteers could also commit a segment of their philanthropic endeavors to this employment fund for individuals in need. If you currently contribute to the United Way Fund, commit a quarter of that sum to a work fund instead. If a work fund does not exist, take it upon youself to create it. If you falter, remember that each great endeavor begins with the single act of one individual. Why not you?
As a society and as individuals within this society, we need to ask, “What can I do to support a work opportunity for an individual in need?” Only then, can we pose that conscionable question to other individuals, government, business or social entities.
What impact could there be if individuals within an organization helped create employment opportunities for individuals in need? Better still, what can the directors and CEOs of select organizations within the Twin Cities do to see that this initiative is productive and strong? When we plant a seed, it may flourish. If we do not plant a seed, it cannot flourish. The following is an example of what an organization with 300 full-time paid employees can do to help individuals in securing part-time employment opportunities.
Scenario: Each employee commits $1 of each week’s earnings to an employment fund: Weekly Contributions to the fund: $300 — Monthly Contributions to the fund: $1,200.
Example Question: If this fund was redistributed to a business that employs people with disabilities, how many part-time opportunities could it create? What new employment opportunities would there be for individuals in need within the non-profit organizations if they could allocate this additional $1,200 to salaries?