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Shutdown rips through state nonprofits and their clients
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Heads of nonprofits met in a strategy session Friday to deal with loss of state grants caused by the budget stalemate (MPR photo/Dan Olson)
The partial state government shutdown is causing Minnesota nonprofits that help battered women, immigrants and others to lay off workers and plan for closing their doors. Hundreds of Minnesota private nonprofit organizations rely on state grants. Many still don't know if the state will rule they are essential services and release state dollars that will allow them to continue their work. Some who thought their state grants were secure began receiving notice Friday they are not.

St. Paul, Minn. — Two months ago Cherise Infante says the father of her 16- month old daughter became abusive.

"Verbal abuse, my daughter getting abused, spanking. (We) needed to get away for the safety of my daughter, you know, I didn't want to raise her that way," she says.

Infante called a domestic abuse crisis line. She says five minutes later a taxi hired by Tubman Family Alliance picked her and her daughter up and delivered them to one of the agency's three shelters.

But Tubman spokesman Randy Schubring said Friday they face having to close all three shelters housing 128 women and children because as far as they know the state government shutdown means their state grants won't be made until the budget stalemate is settled.

Cherise Infante says if and when she has to leave the Tubman shelter her options are slim to none.

"Take my daughter to a homeless shelter or walk the streets, I don't really have very many options," she says.

Representatives from dozens of private nonprofit groups met for a strategy session Friday morning at the St. Paul offices of the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits.

Many, like Lana Stevens from the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, say the budget stalemate places the people they help in an untenable position.

"We are looking at programs that are going to close their doors on battered women, children and sexual assault victims across the state of Minnesota. And what message is that to them? We cannot tell them that our services are closed, we can't afford to tell these women and children that," she says.

According the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits there are more than 4000 private, non-profit organizations in Minnesota. They employ 250,000 people and their annual revenue is more than $4 billion.

Some are big hospitals, health care or education groups who get money from lots of different sources and are mostly unaffected by the shutdown.

However, many others are small organizations like the Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network. The agency's 19 offices around the state refer parents to licensed day care providers and train day care workers. Executive director Ann McCully says most of their money, $6 million, comes from the federal government but passes through the state bureaucracy. She says it appears both state and federal dollars are bottled up because of the shutdown.

"If this drags on too long what happens to those federal dollars? We'd certainly hope they don't get returned. And we certainly hope they don't get lost. That's one of the biggest points we're trying to make in our discussions," she says.

Some nonprofits anticipated the shutdown, made their case to the state and won what they thought were contract renewals before state offices went dark. But Friday a Minneapolis nonprofit that supplies emergency shelter and employment counseling learned from the state it's funds are not guaranteed and it should suspend activities.

Some nonprofits may still get a reprieve from counties.

Ramsey county commissioner Rafael Ortega chairs the board's finance committee and says they may try to use up to $30 million in county reserves for up to two months to help some of the nonprofits they do business with weather the financial storm.

"If we have to go any more beyond that then we're really cutting steep into our investment and we're looking at how that affects our bond rating as we do capital projects, and so there's a whole domino effect here and a lot of pieces we have to consider," he says.

Minnesota Council on Nonprofits policy analyst Marcia Avner is advising members to request an appearance before the judge hearing appeals from groups arguing they supply essential services and should continue to get state grants. It's lobbying lawmakers to guarantee that when the stalemate is solved the existing contracts will be honored and groups won't have to reapply.