Council Eyes Temporary Fix For Human Service Funding Decisions

Feb 18, 2020

A Cincinnati council majority appears ready to let the United Way handle how the city's human services funding is distributed for at least one more year.

But for now a council committee has deferred on whether the agency will be involved in the future.

Since 2010, the city has had a contract with United Way to administer the process that removed the city administration from the selections.  

That agency works with an advisory council to make funding recommendations to City Council. Once council approves, the city's Community and Economic Development Department creates contracts with agencies for human services funding.

Mayor John Cranley and some council members want to keep the United Way in that role. But others on council want to allow the city administration to handle the funding decisions using a competitive bidding process based on what results the city wants to achieve with its human services funds.

The United Way had told city administrators last year it wanted to end the relationship.  

Some council members say that's still the agency's position. But others say United Way would stay involved if that's what council desires.

WVXU reached out to United Way for comment and the agency sent the following response:

“United Way is proud of the service it has provided to Cincinnati taxpayers over the last decade to help support a non-political selection and oversight process for the city's human service fund," the statement read. "As we communicated with the city administration last year, while we don’t plan to renew our contract, we remain committed to a transition process that is the least disruptive towards community organizations and the vulnerable city residents they serve. Beyond that, we would prefer not to speculate.”

Several human services agencies who receive city funding are supportive of the United Way process.

"The United Way process is transparent, competitive and results-based, and provides a fair opportunity for all agencies to participate," said Kelly Myers with the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati. "In fact, it is a process that has allowed a small agency like mine to demonstrate what we can do to compete successfully with larger agencies."

Sue Kathman is with Mercy Neighborhood Ministries and also supports United Way's involvement.

"This partnership has created an environment of collaboration, sharing and best practices and involvement of those we serve in the quality improvement of our programs," Kathman said. "I believe that this partnership, and this process can be improved and strengthened, but I believe that moving it back under the administration of the city would not help us as a city move forward."

In November, City Council asked for a report on how to remove United Way from the process and bring the decision-making back to the city, or turn it over to a different third party.  

Council Member Tamaya Dennard said at the time the current system is not working.

Dennard said she would be okay extending the United Way process for a year, but not beyond that.

"To revisit how we approach human service, we've had a few meetings and we have a lot more to go," Dennard said. "But we do have to have one. I think historically we haven't had one that was informed by the people who are most impacted, and one that wasn't as informed as the people who are administering the service."

Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld suggested that right now there is not a council majority ready to support a way to distribute human services funds.

"To transition away from what currently is, there has to be enough consensus on what will be and I'm not convinced that that exists yet," Sittenfeld said.

The city manager told council there were three options for going forward: have City Council do it; find another third party to do the work; or let city administrators do it.  

Right now, funding is distributed based on categories:

  • 31.5% to reduce homelessness
  • 31.5% for comprehensive workforce development support
  • 17% for emergency wrap-around services (direct support for anti-poverty programs)
  • 11.5% to addiction prevention
  • 3.5% to violence prevention
  • 3% to senior services