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Catalogue Blog

Season of Getting, Season of Giving

The following blog was published by Barbara Harman, Catalogue President and Editor, on December 30th 2013.

To see the original post, click here.

There is a new kind of inequality in our nation and it isn’t between blacks and whites, gay people and straight, or men and women, though these inequalities remain. Income inequality — the new buzz word, or really buzz phrase, that has emerged in recent years and gained momentum in recent months — is really about the gap, the no-man’s land, that divides people not by race or gender but by economic status. The numbers, and their implications, are staggering.

In the nation as a whole, the average net assets of the top 1 percent of the population are 8.4 million which amounts to 70 times -that’s right, 70 times — the average net worth of the rest of the population. According to UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, average real income during what some have deemed the “lost decade” (2002-12) went up 86 percent for the top 1 percent, while for everyone else it went up 6.6 percent. Hold on for one more stat: from 2007-2009, a period that includes the market crash and “recovery” from the recession, 95 percent of the recovery went to the top 1 percent.

In our nation’s capital, income inequality reflects this national trend, but with a twist. Studies released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reveal that the richest 5 percent of individuals in the District of Columbia bring in an average of $436,900, while the poorest 20 percent average $17,000 and the poorest 5 percent clock in at $9100. This last figure reveals wealth disparity, or income inequality, at its starkest: on average, the wealthiest among us make nearly 40 times what the poorest do.

What complicates the picture locally is the fact that the Washington region has a greater share (1/3rd) of what are called “super zips” than any region in the country (Washington Post, “A World Apart”). A super zip is an interesting hybrid: it includes people who are in the top 5 percent for income AND for education. When super zips are contiguous, as they are here, it is possible to live one’s daily life without ever encountering people who are different from oneself — different because they lack a college (or even a high school) degree, live on less (even a lot less, even on virtually nothing) — and whose daily lives are, effectively, invisible. A century and a half ago, author (and, later, British Prime Minister) Benjamin Disraeli referred to the rich and the poor as “two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy, who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings as if they were dwellers in different zones or inhabitants of different planets.”

At the intersection of income inequality and the super zip (the “different zone” or “planet”), the problem takes on an even darker meaning — and creates an imperative that has particular force at this time of year. People who have no experience of, or exposure to, those who live in the other “nation” are unlikely to experience the empathy that generates giving. They have the capacity to give — if income inequality shows us anything, it shows us that — but if they can’t see what need looks like or if they lack knowledge of where to give, then will they give? We can advocate (and should) for an increase in the minimum wage, an extension of unemployment benefits, and a dead halt to cuts in key programs like SNAP and TANF. But as individuals, we should also be, we can also afford to be, more philanthropic.

Research shows that the poor give a greater percentage of their income to charity than the rich, and that they do so because they see before them on a daily basis just what real need really looks like. The rest of us have an exposure problem: where the need is greatest it is also the most invisible. What we don’t witness we can’t experience, and what we can’t experience we don’t connect with, and what we don’t connect with we aren’t likely to support.

In the final days of this year — when giving picks up speed because it has the added benefit of reducing tax liability — we might all take a moment to learn about causes that are addressing the needs of the neediest among us. One way to do this is to explore the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington, which features over 300 vetted community charities that are all based right here, in our nation’s — or two nations — capital. The Catalogue shines a light on the invisible among us, tells their stories, and opens up to all of us worlds of need that we might otherwise not experience. For many in our region, this has been a season of getting. We can also make it a season of giving.

In the News

Dramatic increase in demand for affordable housing in Arlington — A 122-unit affordable housing complex, still under construction, received over 3,600 applications in less than two weeks from hopeful residents. With maximum income limits that vary between just over $30,000 for one person to up to $74,000 for six people living in one unit, this surge of applications highlights a larger affordable housing crunch in the county.

Food stamp benefits will see decline in November and face an additional 5 percent cut in House vote next week — Additional SNAP benefits launched by the 2009 stimulus are set to expire in November. With the current divide in Congress, their impending expiration will cut the monthly food stamp allowance for a family of four by $36.

A vote in the House next week could mean an additional cut of nearly 5 percent to the SNAP program. There are over 50 million Americans who are hungry, nearly 17 million of whom are children. September is Hunger Awareness Month and these decisions could mean increased challenges for low-income Americans locally, and across the country.

Errors by DC tax officials have put over 1,900 DC homeowners at risk for foreclosure — A Washington Post investigation into a program at the DC Department of Tax and Revenue has led , after reports that residents, including elderly homeowners, were forced into foreclosure. One in five liens was sold by mistake. An excerpt from the Post’s series is below — read the series here.

For decades, the District placed liens on properties when homeowners failed to pay their bills, then sold those liens at public auctions to mom-and-pop investors who drew a profit by charging owners interest on top of the tax debt until the money was repaid. But under the watch of local leaders, the program has morphed into a predatory system of debt collection for well-financed, out-of-town companies that turned $500 delinquencies into $5,000 debts then foreclosed on homes when families couldn’t pay, a Washington Post investigation found.

Kids suffer as gap grows between families of different races, classes and educational achievements — A new report by the Ohio State University’s Department of Sociology found “a widening gap in recent years between families that are white, educated or economically secure and minority families, those headed by someone with a high school degree or less, and poor families.” The report noted that living arrangement was a “strong indicator of poverty,” showing that “four percent of U.S.-born children living in dual-income families were poor in 2010, followed by 14 percent in traditional families, while nearly 60 percent of the children living with single, never-married mothers were.” This is significant as white U.S.-born kids were nearly twice as likely as their African-American counterparts to grow up in a dual-income household with married parents. Find the report here.

DC’s new superintendent for education: Mayor Gray announced yesterday that Jesus Aguirre, director of the District’s Parks Department, will become the city’s new state superintendent of education. With a background in education, Aguirre first joined the District government in 2007 as part of the transition team leading up to Michelle Rhee’s term. Since 2009, he has directed the Parks Department at the request of Mayor Fenty, and begins his new post on October 1st.

Hidden Issues

Yesterday, in The Daily Wrag (Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers), President Tamara Copeland explored “What sequestration means for philanthropy:”

I want to focus on the hidden issues. Much of the impact connected to sequestration will be far less overt. The social worker in me says that as already stressed individuals deal with this reality, mental health-related incidents will also increase. There may be increased incidences of domestic violence, more emergency room visits and falling school performance as home environments become tense. Consider this article about the recession’s impact on our region’s mental health, written when our local economy was actually faring better than the rest of the country.

“The Recession’s ‘Silent Mental Health Epidemic,’ the October 2011 Business Insider article to which Copeland points, discusses a Rutgers University study of “the long-term unemployed,” which found that “32 percent were experiencing a good deal of stress” and “at least 11 percent reported seeking professional help for depression.” Moreover, many more did not have the insurance benefits or financial resources to seek such help, despite potentially needing it.

As Copeland suggests, while our region’s funders should of course ensure that basic needs are met, “it is critical that we keep in mind the less obvious needs a failure to support those, particularly mental health care, can lead to dire consequences.” She also points out that, as much or more so than sequestration, tax reforms could have a critical and perhaps longer-term effect on the national and local nonprofit community.

What are your thoughts? What might be the more “hidden” effects of sequestration?

In The News …

In speech, DC mayor pledges investment in affordable housing, other city programs (Washington Post): “A ‘prosperity dividend’ from the District’s continued economic growth should be used to make investments in key city government programs, Mayor Vincent C. Gray said in his annual State of the District address Tuesday.” In the third year of his term, Gray has his first opportunity to “pursue significant new spending — starting with a $100 million commitment to affordable housing.” Additionally, the mayor’s upcoming budget proposal “will include a $15 million ‘investment fund’ for city nonprofits. The fund would make competitive grants to groups involved in arts, job training, the environment, health and other areas.”

A Million Strong: Helping Them Through (New York Times: Education): “As often as not, they float in and out of college like nomads, juggling deployments, families and jobs. If they are in service, they take classes at night or on weekends, studying between combat patrols and 12-hour duty schedules [...] Some have physical injuries or mental health issues that can strain their ability to study.” Thus the questions arise: are veterans given the information that they need to make the best enrollment decisions, and then provided with the resources to complete the degree requirements? To answer them, federal agencies are “creating new metrics that reflect military and veteran students’ tendencies to attend multiple colleges and to take more than four to six years to graduate.”

Three Key Takeaways from Nielsen’s 2012 Social Media Report (Nonprofit Quarterly): “Social media is here to stay, and even as others catch up, Facebook remains miles ahead of the pack [...] If you want to go where the growth is, go mobile. Mobile technology really took root in 2012 with a whopping 120 percent increase in mobile app usage.” And of those surveyed, more than 50% shared their positive and negative reactions about brands over social media — implying that organizations that are not on Facebook or Twitter “could be missing out on helping your stakeholders understand or resolve issues or concerns.”

In The News …

At rally, leaders promise action on affordable housing (Greater Greater Washington): “Over 300 people rallied for affordable housing this weekend with the Housing for All Campaign [...] The next few months will be critical for housing funding. The task force is scheduled to release its report in the next few weeks, and Mayor Gray will announce his housing plan.” Do you agree that affordable housing is poised to become “key political issue?”

Report: Current Approach To Strategic Philanthropy Is Limiting (The NonProfit Times): “The current top-down approach to strategic philanthropy limits its overall effectiveness,” according to a new study by the Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). Says NCRP Executive Director Aaron Dorfman, “All grantmakers want to maximize the impact of their grants [...] What they may not realize is that the missing piece in their grantmaking strategy is the social justice lens.” What do you think of the report’s central suggestions?

Free Tax Help Clinics Begin Friday (ARLnow): “Starting this Friday, Arlington County is holding free clinics to assist residents with tax preparation. The clinics are intended to serve residents with ‘low or moderate income.’” Several clinics list a maximum income for those interested in taking part; all clinics begin in February and run through April, with locations at public libraries, Department of Human Services, and ECDC Enterprise Development Group.

Fiscal Cliff — Averted?

by Marie LeBlanc, Community Partnerships Coordinator

While many Americans across the county rang in New Year’s Day 2013 with pomp, circumstance, and auld lang syne, the United States Congress was (for once) hard at work — barely scraping through the passage of legislation that averted the dreaded “fiscal cliff.” However, is the danger really past? Various news outlets and media sources have been reporting on the “wins and losses”of the fiscal cliff bill, trying to help citizens make sense of it — and understand the real-world implications on their wallets this month and tax bills come April. Yesterday, the Nonprofit Quarterly’s Rick Cohen offered his take on the implications for nonprofits.

According to Cohen, changes made to charitable deductions and marginal tax rates (increasing only on households with annual incomes above $450,000) “constitutes an absolutely minimal touch on charitable contributions.” Due to various tax provisions, on everything from the expiration of the payroll tax “holiday,” to changes in capital gains and dividend income tax rates, the “fiscal cliff bill not only raises less revenues than the President’s proposal, but even less than Speaker Boehner’s Plan B.” However, many programs serving working class and lower income populations have been saved for now, including unemployment benefits and various tax credits on earned income, children, and renewable energy.

The specter of the cliff itself impacted municipal and county-level spending, even before emergency legislation was passed. According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, “the impact of the federal budget impasse on the District was felt 10 days before the New Year’s Eve fiscal cliff deal.” Despite signs of growth in the DC economy, instability in the federal budget prevents these signs from being fully recognized and providing the foundation needed for expanding, and even maintaining, levels of social spending. Programs for domestic violence, mental health, and educational enrichment have fallen victim to the budget gridlock.

Ultimately, Cohen offers this perspective on the budget solution, and its potential future impact:

The fiscal cliff isn’t just a matter of “saving” the maximum deductibility of charitable donations or avoiding the reinstatement of the arcane and minimal Pease amendment, but recognizing how dysfunctional the nation has become and how the communities’ nonprofits serve are the primary victims. If the focus of nonprofit advocates leaving shoe leather in the halls of the Capitol is simply on maximizing the value of the charitable deduction or, perhaps more accurately, maximizing the value of the deduction for ultra-wealthy tax itemizers, then the result, reflected in the fiscal cliff legislation and future bills to be addressed in the next couple of months, will be a truly pyrrhic victory for the communities nonprofits serve.

Election Day

From “Editorial: Our Endorsement? Vote!” in The Nonprofit Quarterly:

We at the Nonprofit Quarterly take pride in being both opinionated and, in terms of political elections, nonpartisan. We don’t endorse or call for the rejection of candidates for public office [...] We will, however, tell you to vote, because if you don’t, you’re sacrificing your stake in the American political process. When you do, we hope you use your brains and tap your values as you check the boxes or pull the lever. [...] If you believe in democracy, no matter what ideological wing you represent, you have to do your duty and go to the polls on November 6th.

- Nonprofit VOTE offers an interative map with “up-to-date information from your state’s elections officials” on checking registration, finding your polling place, and more. And you can check out their “Election Day Toolbox” right here.

- Rock the Vote provides an interactive map as well and a guide to what to bring and what’s on each ballot; you also can sign up for text message reminders about elections.

In The News …

Hospital Team Works To Keep Kids With HIV Healthy (WAMU): “In 2005, 6% of all babies in the United States born with HIV were from Washington, DC. But there’s been some progress; there hasn’t been a baby born with HIV in the District since 2009 because of better screening and medical advances. That’s because if a mother who’s HIV positive takes her medications regularly, there’s a less than 1% chance of the virus being transmitted. But it isn’t easy taking several pills every day, even as an adult.” As Dr. Lawrence D’Angelo reports, “… we have a lot of young people will end up succumbing to this illness, if not during their teenage years, certainly during their adult years, unless we can get them to be adherent to medications.” Similarly, educating at-risk teens about the transmission of HIV, and all sexually transmitted diseases, is both critical and challenging.

Baker moves to take a more active role in Prince George’s schools (Washington Post: Local): “With the 123,000-student system in search of a superintendent and a majority of seats on the school board up for election in the fall, Baker is positioning himself to take a greater role in county schools [...] Baker, who realizes that good schools are key to the county?s prosperity, has staked a lot on improving the school system, telling residents to “judge this administration” on what happens with the schools.” In general, the county executive has relatively little non-financial control over his region’s system — when compared, say, to the mayors of DC or Philadelphia — and not all constituents agree with his particular approach. For Baker, “improving schools a key component of his economic development and overall agenda.”

What could DC do to encourage diversity in schools? (Greater Greater Washington): “If diversity is a worthwhile goal for DC schools, but the numbers are moving in the opposite direction, what could DC do?” In his final element of a four-part series, David Alpert (founder of GGW) argues that “there are essentially 2 ways to include out-of-boundary, poorer children in the most exclusive public schools: make the schools bigger, and entice some in-boundary families to go elsewhere.” For example, many of the cities most desirable magnet programs are located in the same geographical areas as those more exclusive schools — so could some of those programs be moved eastward? To repeat Alpert’s final question, “what steps do you think DC could take to foster diversity while also maintaining and even increasing the educational quality of its schools?” Start with part of the series here.

In The News …

What’s Driving College Costs Higher? (WAMU): Just days before student loan rates are set to double for millions of Americans, President Obama and congressional leaders haven’t reached an agreement on legislation to keep those rates at 3.4 percent. The debate reflects the growing concern over the debt burden many take on to get a college education. About two-thirds of bachelor’s degree recipients borrow money to attend college, and collectively, student debt has topped $1 trillion [...] The average college senior in the U.S. now carries $25,000 in student loan debt at graduation. Those figures rise when graduate degrees are figured into the equation.” We’ve written about the briefing at the White House on College Affordability before and highlighted some of our nonprofits that are dedicated to college affordability. What needs to improve besides interest rates?

County officials, nonprofits fear domestic violence funding cut due to Congressional gridlock (Gazette): “Prince George’s County officials and advocates for domestic violence victims said they are worried that gridlock in Congress could jeopardize essential services to victims and their families [...] nonprofit and government organizations in Prince George’s County received $4 million in VAWA funding last year, through a total of 91 federal grants.” County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks says that “the largest impact will be to the outreach and support efforts for victims, particularly in the Latino community.” You can learn about, and support, nonprofits in Prince George’s right here.

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In The News …

Social Ethics: A Peek Into 2012 (Huffington Post): “Business as usual is changing. Or at least the way business leaders think about philanthropy is changing. In an era of global connectivity and instant media, companies increasingly view philanthropic campaigns as an intrinsic component of a successful business strategy, rather than an external obligation [...] The field is growing and changing so rapidly that its boundaries are still being drawn.” The article also cites a 2011 report from the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy finds that corporate giving is on the rise again and that 53% of companies gave more in 2010 than they did prior to the recession.

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