Recent changes to Cincinnati city hall are aimed at ensuring more reliable funding for community non-profit groups. The new executive director of the Human Services Chamber of Hamilton County hopes a new city council and mayor will build on this momentum.
Mike Moroski took the job in early November (just before being re-elected to the Cincinnati Public School Education Council). Becca Costello of WVXU spoke with him about the work being done in the county and the possibilities for progress.
Becca Costello: Talk a bit about the Human Services Chamber and its role in this funding for human services.
Mike Moroski: A quick story – so I was on the Social Services Advisory Board for eons in a previous life, so I know this whole process very intimately. And you know the story of it, it was designed to take politics out of the process, which it really isn’t. I mean, it’s almost impossible to remove politics from any process. It’s not a slam against anyone, it’s just a fact. And especially when you talk about social services, and you talk about money, and you talk about real people and the lives of real people – it’s political, period. So anyway, that’s my caveat, I guess, to begin with.
Thus, the process of human services has been transferred to Centraide where decisions are largely made, or rather the recommendations, then passed on to the city and the city most often takes the recommendations from the HSAC and goes ahead. .
Our role as the Human Services Chamber of Hamilton County is to serve as a collective voice for 80 member agencies. It’s everyone, from the grassroots with a quarter-million dollar budget to Talbert House, Freestore Foodbank, United Way and everyone in between. So there are a lot of needs and a lot of problems related to mental health, education, aging, services for people with disabilities, homelessness, etc. And then my role within that is to help move these issues forward with the local government.
Regarding the City’s Human Services Fund, our role is to advocate, as always, for full funding – 1.5% [of the General Fund] full funding.
[Reporter’s note: The city has been funding human services programs since 1981. When it started, 1.5% of the city’s General Fund was dedicated to supporting these efforts. That amount has been reduced in recent years because of tight budgets and deficits. In 2017, Council voted to incrementally increase its appropriations to human services over a five-year period to eventually restore the fund back to 1.5%. The goal for the fiscal year 2022 budget was 1.4% of the General Fund. The budget includes $8 million total for “human services and violence prevention,” or about 1.7% of the General Fund – surpassing the goal, according to the mayor and city manager. Of that, about $5 million is in the actual Human Services Fund administered by the United Way, or about 1.1% of the General Fund. The Human Services Chamber has often argued the 1.5% goal should be for that fund, with a competitive bid process reviewed by an independent committee, and should not include money directly allocated by council, like $750,000 for the Center for Closing the Health Gap.]
A number of our members in the House receive money from this fund. And our job is to make sure that the city is held accountable for what it says it will do, which is to fund social services through this particular fund, and to do it in a way. fair and ethical.
Often, some agencies end up in the budget, so they don’t have to deal with funding for human services. Sometimes community development block grant dollars, CDBG dollars, are used for human services. So there are always moving parts and there is always the potential to pit agencies against each other. And I think the value of having a room for social services is that it’s the team, we’re in the same boat. There are a lot more crossovers than we often discover because we don’t always talk to each other.
Our human services agencies do the job no one else wants to do and fill in the gaps where government fails. The nonprofit sector literally grew out of government failure. We’ve been around for a long time and we’re experts in this field – we know what will improve the community for everyone.
Sometimes a lot of bad is done in the name of good. And one of the worst things I’ve seen in my 21-year career in this job is that our agencies are pitted against each other. [Funding is] still used as a kind of bargaining chip; it is always on the block, it is always given as something that must disappear. And I don’t expect it to be any different in the future [although] I have high hopes for the new council and the mayor.
RELATED: Cincinnati’s Funding for Nonprofits Has Not Always Been Reliable. Recent changes to Town Hall aim to correct this
Explain more about the organizations that pit against each other. Are you referring to the funding of the city’s human services facilitated by Centraide? Or when the Council allocates money directly to organizations? Or both?
I just think the entire world of human service agency funding can inadvertently have that impact.
Let’s say, for example, that a city priority is anti-violence initiatives. There is an agency that does this very well [and] there is another agency that does this very well. And one of those agencies is budgeted directly because of a relationship they might have. Agency B is then thrown into this pot to fight with three other agencies, who are also doing a great job, for $ 50,000 or something, while Agency A got a quarter of a million straight in the budget. This can create unnecessary conflicts between agencies doing similar or complementary work.
I have nothing against pet projects. People are excited to run for office because of something they have been involved in. For me, it was education and the fight against poverty – that’s what motivated me to run for office. So I understand, I have no problem with that. But people are not elected to implement their projects, they are elected for the public good at large. And my role as the new chamber manager is similar. My role is not to come in and say, here are the things Mike Moroski thinks are important and therefore we are going to do them. It’s not that. He’s trying to figure out where those 80 agencies line up.
What would you change to the funding of human services, if applicable?
I would make it easier, and I would make it simpler. And I would take out, you know, half of the reporting. I say half – I don’t know what percentage I would take out. But it’s cumbersome, unnecessarily cumbersome. These agencies are running out of time, they are strapped for money, they solve the world’s biggest problems, they do it largely on their own. And we’re asking human service agencies to do more reporting than we are asking any private company to do.
I’m not saying people shouldn’t have to report what they’re doing. But I sometimes dispute how the people in social services are held to fire when others are kind of allowed to do whatever they want.
Hosting it with Centraide is a good idea. I think if it were under the purview of Cincinnati City Council alone, it would be 10 times more complicated. I don’t think this is a good idea.
The only other thing I would change is probably obvious, but it’s putting more money in the fund. It’s not for me to decide, but I can defend it. And of my new position, I certainly intend, at least to have it at this 1.5% [of the General Fund].
Is there anything the House will do differently to move forward under your leadership? Or when you took the job, was there something right off the bat that you felt like, OK, that’s the direction I want to take us?
What I would like to see is that the elected officials of the town hall and the county commissioners see us as a resource. Or, you know, the Mount Healthy city council, or the Colerain Township trustees. Let them see my members as experts, because they are.
I think people think of our industry as a cute thing. A lot of times when I tell people that I work with homeless children, there’s always that kind of pat on the back. Like, ‘That’s really cool. It is really good.’ And I’m not saying no, but it’s serious work.
I would love to see the new council and the county and the new mayor, I would love to see them call me. [Let’s say] The person from council A is really interested in mental health and she calls me and says, âMike, I am really interested in mental health, I would really like to make some interesting legislation to make things better for people. faced with this in the city. Can you put me in touch with people who know more than anything? “And I’ll say, ‘Yes, I can. And it’s very simple for me to do that.
So let’s be efficient. Listen, we have enough resources in this city to do good things for people. We have enough smart people in the city to do good things for people. And we are all going in circles. We don’t need it, and I think it’s something I would like to position as a chamber: a repository for expert advice, research, data on issues that impact health. city. And I think that would be a drastic change.
I think government is important, and government was designed to benefit the public good. Without going too much into philosophy … I think, quite frankly, that we have moved away from it. And it became about other things – locally, federally, Republican, Democrat, it became about other things.
I think we have an opportunity in Cincinnati with literally a brand new city hotel. It is completely different. But also the problem is that there is the electoral cycle, and it is a problem to maintain the partnerships. It’s a beautiful thing about democracy because people have to get their jobs back from their bosses who are voters, but it can be difficult if it’s not built into the city’s ethics, and this is not currently the case. Right now it’s a lot, who is on the board and what is it doing?
And I think the reason we’re seeing this disconnect is because I don’t know the government is seen to be there to benefit the public good. So don’t be too Spider Man, but you know, with great power comes great responsibility. But it’s true. It’s good.