I’m a little confused by ours here in Missoula.
For instance, on May 20 it was announced that the city would give a private developer $1.8 million for their private-sector project, a $22 million downtown hotel.
The very next day, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Missoula announced they’d be closing their doors for good because they couldn’t come up with $120,000.
Think about that for a minute.
Maybe do the math.
$1.8 million / $120,000 = 15.
15 years we could have funded Big Brothers and Big Sisters here in Missoula for what we just gave to a group of rich developers.
Those developers didn’t really need the money. Those kids sure the hell did.
Last week the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Missoula said it would close. They’d been open for 49 years, serve 103 kids a year, and have a few staff members.
Back in March the organization put a post up on Facebook detailing their troubles:
"Our organization is going through a critical time and needs your help. Over the last two years, our annual state, federal, and private grants have been cut. We have done everything in our power to deal with the loss of a third of our budget, but we are still coming up short. Our goal is to raise one year's operating expenses so that we can fully develop and adapt our new funding model."
That Facebook message was part of a broader push that “published multiple articles, launched a social media campaign, and aired public service announcements in an effort to raise funds.”
Scott Johnson, who’s been heading the local chapter for 30 years, admits he should have done more back then to let people know they would probably have to close.
Funding issues have hit the national organization before, both nationally and at the local level.
Two years ago in West Virginia, a Big Brothers and Big Sisters chapter lost $80,000 in private donor funding after they accepted a $10,000 grant to do LGBT training, though they were able to make $30,000 in donations after the story broke nationally, which still left them with a $50,000 deficit.
That’s kind of the thing here in Missoula - donations might come in now that the local chapter is closing, but it won’t be enough to keep the place open long-term.
Last year the Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central Kentucky closed. It’d been open for 40 years, served 100 kids a year, and had three staff members.
Again, it was funding issues, mostly a cutback in what kind of grants they’d been receiving. Just like here in Missoula, they cancelled the fundraiser they'd been going to have. They knew it just wouldn't get the job done.
The biggest news about the organization’s problems came in 2013, however.
$20 million in in federal grant money went missing, though it was accounting errors that caused it, not misuse of funds.
From 1994 to 2013, the federal government provided Big Brothers and Big Sisters with $480 million in grant money.
That might sound like a lot, but Intel has received $5.9 billion in taxpayer subsidies since 2011 alone. Boeing has received $14 billion, the largest recipient in the country.
Before the 2013 shakeups, Big Brothers and Big Sisters was viewed favorably in Washington.
Two of their programs alone received nearly $70 million in Justice Department grants since 2004 - the National Mentoring program and the Tribal Youth National Mentoring program. I’m sure the latter is quite beneficial for Montana. In fact, I'd argue our rural communities need that program.
But last year, Trump’s budget cuts went into effect and $54 billion in non-defense spending was cut, something that resulted in the elimination of 66 different federal programs, but also a lot of grant money for organizations like Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
I don’t think that federal funding is coming back anytime soon. 'Our' representatives in Washington don't care about kids that don't have role models in their lives. They might say they do, but their funding choices say otherwise. And none of the so-called 'compasionate conservatives' have the balls to challenge the president on this.
So where can groups like Big Brothers and Big Sisters get their funding?
It’s clear that private donors aren’t up to the task, at least not here in Missoula. Too many families are feeling pinched economically at the moment to give much of anything.
What about state funding?
I think it is a strong possibility...in places like California or New York or Oregon, where Democrats might fund that. Here in Montana with a red legislature? That’s not going to happen anytime soon.
That leaves local funding, if it’s even a possibility.
I’m not sure. The word “non-profit” is only listed 8 times in the city’s current 384-page budget.
The greatest possibility probably lies with conduit bonds:
“The City may act as an issuer for a private or non-profit party. In these cases the City acts as a ‘conduit’ issuer of tax-exempt bonds as defined by federal and state law. Conduit bonds are secured solely by revenues of the private or non-profit party, and are not an obligation of the City.”
Reading that, I just don’t think it’s going to happen, either.
And I know some don't want taxpayer money going to non-profits. I personally feel it's better than giving it to rich people. Also, investments here will save us money later, particularly in jail costs, healthcare costs, and other societal problems that arise from kids without a strong support network in their lives.
I suppose if the City Council wanted to vote to help Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Missoula, they could.
It’s just that right now, they don’t want to. No one is even talking about it. It’s frustrating.
I think we have the money. In fact, I know we have it. I mean...we just spent $25,000 for a dog sculpture back in February.
And of course, the $1.8 million we just gave to the rich developers.
That money could have helped a lot of disadvantaged kids. A lot.