Cuyahoga County Government Makes Improvements

In 2008 to 2009, Cuyahoga County voters decided to end the Commissioner form of government and backed a charter that included a County Council and a County Executive.  Slowly, we are seeing big changes in the contracting process and how funds are overseen with more transparency.  In April 2012, the County decided to outsource the distribution of hunger dollars to the United Way and the Emergency Food and Hunger Committee that meets to distribute FEMA funds to shelters and hunger centers.  This is a great idea and an example of County Government functioning in a fair and efficient manner.  NEOCH has a board position on the Emergency Food and Hunger Committee, and have often wondered why it did not serve a more prominent role in the community.  They have every expert on food and shelter around the table and are overseen by the United Way.  Their only role in the community and yet all they do is distribute around $800,000 to $900,000 in federal funding to the shelters and hunger programs every year. 

This FEMA allocation emergency services program was begun about 30 years ago when emergency needs began to grow out of control in most large cities.  It was decided that federal funding should be provided to make up the shortfall in demand for shelter beds and food for pantries and soup kitchens.  The formula is based on unemployment in a state and nearly every large community in the United States receives funding.  In exchange for the money, the United Ways in each community had to construct a local advisory to decide on how these funds were to be distributed.  These were mandated to include religious leaders (Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, the Jewish Community Foundation, and other Interdenominational religious groups).  They had to include the Community Action Agency and the Red Cross as well as City and County government.  They also included major foundations, other non-profits, advocates, and a person who has received benefits from the program.  This was always a spectacular group with an exceptionally limited mandate.  The group came up with a fair and equitable distribution of the funds about 15 years ago, and there was not much else that they needed to do except vote on the split of the limited pool of funds.  The United Way administers these funds and takes a tiny fee to do the reporting and distribution.   The program is entirely transparent and has a good process for distributing these funds and selecting which groups in the community receive these funds.  Tax payers should be proud of the efficient and effective use of government funding. It is unfortunate that these funds have seen repeated cuts over the last three years.

Going back to 2009 before the County Government was replaced, there were attempts to merge the two largest hunger organizations in the community and there seemed to be a misunderstanding on the part of government about the role of the Cleveland Foodbank and the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland.  This dispute has gone on for years, and foundations and others have tried to resolve the issue with little success.  Government does not necessarily understand food policies and the exact role of the pantry vs. the hot meal programs and how the Foodbank supports all these programs.  In April 2012, the County decided to outsource their funds of a little over $1 million to the United Way and asked that the Emergency Food and Shelter Board figure out a strategy for distributing these funds with special attention toward meeting emerging hunger needs in Cuyahoga County.   This is a vote of confidence in the FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter Board.  The board will have two additional members from Cuyahoga County, but will operate in a similar manner that they have operated over the last few decades.  This will maximize hunger dollars in the community.  It is expected for this collaboration to extend through 2014, and for the FEMA Board to make recommendations to the County in early 2013 with regular updates on a quarterly basis.  This is an excellent use of local government funding, and can be a model for other programs.  Having all the experts in the community sitting around a table to decide on the best use of tax payer funding will maximize these dollars.  How do we get the foundations to throw in their money that they spend on hunger into the same pool?

Brian Davis

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