NONPROFITS CONTINUE BUSINESS AS USUAL AS NEW ADMINISTRATION LOOMS

By January 16, 2017Blog

The 2016 elections were divisive and stressful, to say the least. The heightened feelings that preceded the election have not abated, and with the inauguration looming, many people are eyeing what the next four years will bring.

Rock the Vote

“Overall, as the election results came in, there has been a ton of fear driven speculation at both the state and national level,” said Lezli Engelking, founder and executive chair of the Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards (FOCUS). “What will Trump mean for the country, what will Jeff Sessions as attorney general mean?”

As with any leadership changeover from one party to the other, changes are imminent, and what those changes will bring for everyone remains to be seen. For many, that’s all they can really do.

“Most are taking a wait and see approach to the new administration,” said Fred Schultz, in an email interview. Schultz is the chief executive officer at the Foundation for Positively Kids, which is headquartered in Las Vegas. Positively Kids provides healthcare to medically fragile children, who have a long-term chronic illness, and he notes that they face immediate needs that will often take precedence over politics, but some political issues still give them pause.

“We haven’t heard too much from the families we serve, although some are nervous about losing health coverage,” he said.

In Los Angeles, a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is also on the radar of the team at Abode Communities, a nonprofit affordable housing provider whose mission it is “to create service-enhanced affordable housing and socially-beneficial community facilities that promote the social, economic, and physical transformation of under-served communities.” The organization has been providing these services since 1968.

“As we work to provide a high quality standard of living, we also work to improve our residents’ health,” said Robin Hughes, president and chief executive officer at Abode Communities. “If ACA is repealed, it would have a significant impact on the long-term health outcomes of the low-income families and individuals we serve.

And while changes to the ACA  might affect Abode Communities indirectly, the organization is keeping a sharp eye on IRS code section 42 of the tax code.

“As an organization, we’re a developer of affordable housing for low income people. We’re serving people who are on the extremely low wage earners in LA county,” Hughes explained. “One of the major tools we use to finance our developments is Low Income Housing Tax Credits. We’re already hearing that private investors are putting a pause on investments into affordable housing.”

If the industry loses this critical investment, “it will decimate our [ability to address the Country’s affordable housing crisis],” Hughes said.

Tax reform isn’t the only thing the crew at Abode Communities is watching.

“The other thing we’re very concerned about is programming with the Housing and Urban Development and the appointment to secretary of HUD,” she explained. “There has been major efforts in the past to reduce HOME and Community Development Block Grant funds which come to cities to build housing and other community development projects. We’ve experienced a 50 percent reduction over the last five years; with Republicans controlling Congress and White House, we’re concerned we’ll see further cuts within HUD.”

Abode Communities does not work in a bubble, though, and while their immediate concerns pertain to funding and legislation that might impair or even deplete the group’s ability to help their chosen segment of society, Hughes knows of groups in “weak markets or places where they’ve seen manufacturing jobs leave,” such as Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and knows that groups in those areas that offer similar services are also watching and waiting to see how the incoming administration will try to bring resources to those towns and cities.

Your Vote is Your Voice

 While the presidential election dominated headlines and public opinion, some state election results are likely to affect nonprofits.

“On the positive side, there were a number of local ballot initiatives to support the production of affordable housing,” said Hughes. “In the City of Los Angeles, voters approved bond measure for $1.2 billion over the next 10 years to help support housing for chronically homeless and households at risk of homelessness. There was another local ballot that promoted mixed income housing and labor jobs. The hope is that this tool will spur the production of affordable housing and create strong, high paying jobs for the local economy.”

With eight states making decisions about marijuana use in the 2016 elections alone, things have gotten busy at FOCUS. Despite being about cannabis, FOCUS isn’t, well, focused on legalizing marijuana use – FOCUS was created to legitimize the cannabis industry. An unbiased, third-party, 501(c)(3) organization, FOCUS develops cannabis-specific, voluntary consensus standards and third-party certification for the cannabis industry. FOCUS standards protect public health, consumer safety, and safeguard the environment, in order to build a safe, legal, and sustainable, global cannabis industry. Because cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, the Food and Drug Administration does not provide guidelines for assuring the quality, safety and consistency of cannabis products, and that’s where FOCUS stepped in.

Basing their business model on the third-party company hired by the FDA to regulate methadone clinics in the late 1980s (a company which still holds the contract), FOCUS is leading the creation of standards that are suitable for adoption in to regulations at both state and federal levels. The goal of FOCUS is to set guidelines that will help those in the cannabis industry provide a consistently safe product for consumption – which also minimizes risks and protects cannabis businesses when they face scrutiny.

So while it’s not surprising that the team at FOCUS considered the election outcomes – both at the national and state level – as positive, it’s not for the reasons one might think.

“The states have spoken,” Engelking said, explaining that with growing support for the cannabis industry, she doesn’t think it likely that any politician will try to reverse those decisions, else they risk losing a large portion of their constituency. So she’s not overly worried about the incoming administration.

“Trump has supported state rights, Session supported that [at his confirmation hearing], so we don’t feel it’s going to be a big issue,” she continued, adding that recognition of cannabis on a federal level “may not be moving as quickly as some would like, things are going well in the states and that’s okay.”

Get Up and Vote

With no definitive notion of what’s coming next and most everyone having to just wait and see what happens, it’s no surprise that few will change much, if anything, about daily operations.

Though little day-to-day businesses will change for Positively Kids, they’re keeping a positive outlook—and being proactive for their families regarding insurance options.

“We are remaining optimistic regarding a new administration. However, we are working closely with state legislators and health division staff to ensure children continue to receive healthcare coverage,” Michelle Gorelow, vice president of program development at the Foundation for Positively Kids, explained.

She is encouraging other nonprofit leaders to follow suit.

“Positively Kids would encourage other nonprofit leaders to be flexible and optimistic with the new administration. We would also encourage leaders to actively participate in the legislative process on the state level, as most decisions that affect nonprofits immediately are made [there],” she added.

It’s a position covered previously on this blog and one that Engelking is familiar with, given how far the cannabis industry has come in recent years. For her, now is the time to start working together.

“We need other nonprofits who work on behalf of protecting others – those against drunk driving, or those that support seniors, to rally around the quality and safety of cannabis,” said Engelking.

“Regardless of one’s personal beliefs or feelings, cannabis is here to stay. So collaborative efforts are crucial if we are going to build a safe industry.”

Those collaborative efforts are also something Hughes sees as a way forward.

“I don’t know what it will be like going back to Washington, DC and advocating for our work for the next four years. I think it’s a time to think about what policy and programs are critically important to us and our constituency and bring faces to our issues as we advocate in Washington, DC, so that as decisions are made in Congress they’re aware of implications of their decision on people in their districts. We can’t take passive roles. We have to be involved pushing for policy and pushing for our core values,” she said.

“Is this a time for the nonprofit sector to come together in a way it hasn’t? Is it better to have multiple voices with a singular message? It’s way more powerful to have a health official talking about affordable housing for their patients than it is for me as a housing developer. It’s more important for a teacher who can see improvement in a child when they have a place to go when it’s time to go home, to speak the importance of affordable housing. This is a time to come together across the nonprofit sector as a singular voice in DC.”

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