The Human Services Chamber of Hamilton County bills itself as the collective voice of human services in the Cincinnati region.
Now, that voice has a chance to ring out with even greater impact in some of Cincinnati’s most vulnerable neighborhoods in 2019, thanks to the organization’s success this summer in convincing Cincinnati City Council to remain true to a funding commitment made last year.
Council unanimously passed an ordinance in 2017 to increase the share of the city’s general fund going to human services to 1.5 percent by 2022.
A timetable for moving steadily toward that goal included a step up to a 1 percent allocation of total general fund spending by the city for 2019. That commitment appeared seriously endangered, however, when initial city budgeting was sent to council this summer with a $32 million funding gap.
The 2019 budget update submitted to council by the city manager at the start of June fell well below the 1 percent threshold for human services. That proposal allocated $2,790,172 for human services funding. To get to 1 percent, that number needed to be increased to $4,060,000.
An intensive lobbying effort included testimony at public hearings from representatives and clients of many of the Human Services Chamber’s 50 member agencies, such as Freestore Foodbank, YWCA, Lighthouse Youth Services, Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Services, Santa Maria Community Services, and Our Daily Bread.
That effort paid off when city council passed a budget in late June that met the 1 percent mandate, which will translate into an increase in funding for programming for the city’s poor and vulnerable populations of $790,000 over this year’s levels.
The impact the city will get out of that money is an issue that starts with city council.
“The priorities are set by city council, not human service agencies themselves,” says Mary Asbury, vice chair of the Human Services Chamber of Hamilton County and the executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati.
“City council then has a contract with United Way, which puts out a competitive request for proposals, and then anyone who bids to have a contract for the city money has to say what they are going to do with the city money, and they have to report twice a year on the outcomes they have achieved.”
Issues that have been agreed upon as immediate priorities for 2019 include prevention of homelessness; workforce development and clearing barriers to employment, including public transit; violence prevention strategies; and substance abuse prevention and treatment, particularly the opioid abuse crisis.
Against such a tough budget backdrop, getting council to prioritize the need to live up to its 1 percent commitment represented a significant victory for the cooperative approach advocated by the Human Services Chamber. Although not a name with wide recognition compared to some community entities, the Human Services Chamber represents 50 agencies that provide human services support in Cincinnati and Hamilton County, many of which are household names.
The group was formed in 2013 to try and give a more coordinated voice for human services agencies in the policy process. It is estimated that approximately 13,000 low-income city residents will benefit from programming supported by this funding each year.