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April 2017
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Ever wish you could decide how your tax dollars were spent?

Well, here’s some news. In Oregon, thanks to the Individual Development Account (IDA) Initiative, you can. If helping low-income people improve their lives by saving toward home ownership, education, and entrepreneurship goals sounds like something you wish your tax dollars did, this is your chance. You can decide. And you can even get a credit on your state taxes for 75% of your contribution.*

What is an IDA? It’s a savings plan for low income people. The Oregon legislature defines what kind of goals people can save toward, and it also sets a limit on how much money can be raised from donors. Contributions come from Oregonians like you and me. Low-income Oregonians enroll in the program and start saving to buy a home, or start a small business, or further their education, or other goals. Once they reach their financial goal, their savings are matched three to one, up to a maximum of $3,000. Along the way, they go to workshops to build financial savvy.

How many peoples’ lives are better because of this program? Cynthia Winters at The Neighborhood Partnership Fund, the nonprofit that oversees the program, informs me that there are currently over 1,100 low-income Oregonians enrolled. Last year, over 500 Oregonians completed the program. This year, even more will be able to enroll.

Then there’s the donors. Last year, this group of Oregonians at the other end of the economic spectrum from the participants also benefited from the program through the tax credit for donations. Here’s how the credit works:

The IDA Tax Credit begins with your contribution to the Neighborhood Partnership Fund. 75% of your contribution becomes a credit on your State of Oregon income tax return. For example, if you as an individual made a donation of $1000 to the IDA Initiative, you would then be qualified for a tax credit of 75%, or $750 against your state income taxes. The tax credit reduces the state taxes that you would otherwise pay. (Source)

I was surprised to learn a couple things when the 2007 report to donors came out a few weeks back. One, that only 333 people contributed $6 million. Two, that the average contribution was over $17,000. I contributed, but given the amounts raised from so few people, I imagine that my tiny contribution actually skewed all the data downwards! Regardless, I benefited from lowering my tax liability and from feeling like, for once, I was certain that the taxes I paid were doing something good.

So here’s a challenge to my readers, family, and friends in Oregon: consider making a donation this year (note: link is to a .pdf). Right now, there are over $7 million in tax credits remaining. And while it’s great that a handful of wealthy Oregonians are getting tax breaks in a way that’s pretty noble, the tax credit could also benefit a lot of “average” Oregonians out there…you know, the middle-income ones who complain about how their taxes are spent. I’d love to see that thousands of Oregonians contributed to this program in 2008 when the next report comes out, not just for the tax breaks, but for a greater sense of community and being in this together.

Participant success stories
IDA Contributor Brochure (PDF)

*I am not an accountant or tax specialist, and this is not financial advice. See someone who is qualified to help you that way if you want to know about how this might affect your particular situation.

Funding nonprofit work: wages matter

An increase in state funding for childcare is the topic of an article in today’s Oregonian, “Little-known fact: money for day care” [link]. Some interesting details emerge, and this section in particular seemed relevant to the nonprofit scene in general:

The YMCA centers in Portland offered nearly $300,000 in child-care scholarships last year to low-income families, including Fackler’s.

Deborah Murray, executive director at the Peninsula Children’s Center in North Portland, said the difference between what the state reimbursed and her center’s costs ranged from $160 to $300 per child each month.

How did the nonprofit stay in business?

“We got a bunch of grants. Hired a full-time development director and spent our time fundraising like crazy,” Murray says.

But the low state subsidy also meant some of the center’s staff earned little more than minimum wage.

Now that the state has increased its subsidy, Murray says the reimbursement is much closer to the actual cost of care.

She’s able to give staff raises. And more of the low-income parents who bring their children to the center have been able to qualify for help. (emphasis mine)

One of the things that doesn’t make sense to me about the way funding for nonprofit works, whether the source be government grants or private donors and foundations, is that there is a bias against covering the costs of wages for the people who actually do the work. A number of the grants I managed previously had funds only for “direct services,” and required that the cost of staffing necessary to provide those “direct” services be raised elsewhere. This ongoing funding crunch makes it hard to develop new programs or take on projects, as staff are already maxed out on responsibilities–and are not being paid a living wage or close to it.

One of the most annoying things I have experienced is looking at income guidelines for some of the federally-funded housing programs and realizing that a lot of the people who provide those services earn so little that they themselves are eligible for the subsidies.

Endings

A little over a week ago, I gave my notice at my nonprofit job; Friday is my last day. Next Monday, I begin a new job in the private sector.

I’m excited and ready for the change. There are also many, many people I have met through this work whom I will miss–my staff, counterparts at Oregon Housing and Community Services, fellow committee members, the clients I have been fortunate to interact with, and community partners around the state.

Predictions about the future seem to invite their own undoing. So rather than predict whether the future might hold more nonprofit work for me, I will simply say that, at this point, I feel like I have gotten the idea of nonprofit work-as-source-of-income out of my system.

Woodburn residents’ son-in-law among seven migrant Oaxacans missing for over a year

An email from one of the ESL teachers with whom I work alerted me to the fact that, for one family I know, the dangers of border crossings have struck really close to home. A family member is among the border crossing casualties of the past year.

Estimates of how many Mexicans die every year attempting to cross into the US for work vary; Border Patrol counts of annual deaths range from 400-500. On the other hand, Baylor University scientists have singlehandedly identified the remains of “some 1,000 cadavers of border-crossers [for] families in Mexico and elsewhere” since 2002, and currently have a backlog of hundreds of bodies they have been unable to identify. [link] Extra-governmental estimates of deaths are sometimes significantly higher.

For this couple, though, the loss isn’t only about statistics. It is their son-in-law who vanished a year ago with six other migrants from a small town in Oaxaca, and after hundreds of phone calls and writing letters to the president of Mexico, they still know nothing of his whereabouts.

This news is deeply sad to me, on every possible level. It speaks of human loss and tragedy and of the violence of the systems we have created and perpetuated, systems in which people are caught and crushed.

Can’t say I’ve heard a worse idea in a long time…

Statesman Journal opinion page: Make Oregon State Hospital Part of OHSU

Because…OHSU does such a great job caring for other vulnerable Oregonians?

Edwards to end presidential bid

This is disappointing news. John Edwards has truly set the pace on many issues related to domestic policy this election year. I hope that, especially on poverty, the remaining candidates continue to borrow freely from his ideas.

Oregon Health Plan reservation list opens today, sort of

Adults who believe they may be eligible for OHP Standard can throw their names in the hat online; by mail, fax or in person; or by phone. [Forms: English, Spanish] More details here. Since it’s a State of Oregon website, there is of course no clear link to the online form as of yet; there is also no answer at the 800 number that was to become active at 7 am today, unless “you have dialed a number that is not available from your calling area” counts as an answer. Snow in Salem is my guess.

Update, 10:28 am: The online registration link has now been added to the DHS informational page.

Stanford Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality introduces new magazine

Stanford University has recently launched Pathways Magazine, described as “a magazine on poverty, inequality, and social policy.” The Winter 2008 issue is available in .pdf on their website, and free subscription options include email notification of new issues as well as print versions.

Winter 2008 Issue .pdf

[Via Education and Class]

Oregon Health Plan to accept new adult enrollments

For a limited time, the Oregon Health Plan will accept new adult enrollments, according to a January 7th DHS news release. OHP will be enrolling approximately 5,000 people into the Standard plan in order to replace members lost by attrition and bring the total number of enrollees back up to average levels. This is the first time OHP Standard has been open since 2004, and it won’t last long–people “who believe they might qualify for OHP-Standard” may only apply for the lottery between January 28th and February 29th. After that preliminary “Yes!! I am interested in having health insurance!!!” period, DHS will select applicants from the pool at random and mail them their behemoth of an application.

To editorialize on a related topic, according to our own DHS, 67,000 Oregonian children are eligible for OHP and not enrolled. When I think about the $$$ spent on failed Measure 50, I wonder what it could have done to spread the word about existing, funded services that are not being accessed.

Update: An article in today’s Oregonian reports that significantly more applicants may be accepted than DHS’s news release suggests, due apparently to budgetary surplus caused by lower enrollment levels.

Roseburg, Oregon homeless shelter for teens gets front page writeup

First, I am running way behind around here. The dearth of posts has to do with fun holiday activities and a few recent trips. That to say, I wish I had posted this a week and a half ago.

I was home in Roseburg, Oregon, visiting my parents for the holidays, and noted that the Roseburg News Review published a good write-up about a local homeless shelter for teens and families with teens, Casa de Belen, on Christmas Eve. Casa de Belen is one of the many rural Oregon projects that receive Continuum of Care funding for serving homeless people. It addresses a very specific need in the community, one partially caused by the fact that many shelters, especially those for people fleeing domestic violence situations, do not allow teenage boys. Kudos to Casa de Belen on this favorable media coverage.