- September 21, 2022
- by Vaseline
Last year, youth in Maupin had the opportunity to participate in a summer program that took them on field trips around the state. It was operated by South Wasco Youth Programs, a non-profit organization serving approximately 110 students in north-central Oregon.
“We’re in a rural, impoverished area, so it was pretty amazing to do that,” said director Amber Anderson.
Anderson was able to pay for these trips last year with a $45,000 government summer learning grant.
This year she got nothing.
“I’m really upset, I’m not going to lie,” she said of cutting field trips for children.
The reason: a new government requirement that scholarship holders have additional insurance cover for claims of sexual abuse and harassment.
In 2021, the state legislature approved $40 million for summer learning programs offered by community-based groups. More than 500 used the money. This year, the state approved nearly $48 million in grants, but insurance requirements allowed 376 groups to receive grants this year, down 25%.
The insurance obligation
In the summer of 2021, the Oregon Community Foundation was responsible for distributing the grants. It required grantees to take out insurance, but did not specify the different types of coverage. The foundation is a non-profit organization that has nothing to do with any government or government agency and made the grants as donations.
This year, the Oregon Association of Education Service Districts was responsible for awarding the scholarships to community groups. Because it is a quasi-government agency — its fiscal representative is the Clackamas Education Service District, a taxpayer-funded public agency — the Oregon Department of Justice had to review the application process. The department found that the supplemental insurance against sexual abuse and harassment would be needed for community groups as well as schools.
In March, Jennifer Brenden, program administrator at the Oregon Association of Education Service Districts and the Oregon Department of Education, learned that additional coverage would be needed and tried to do everything possible to change it.
Oregon school districts and many large nonprofit community groups such as the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club already have coverage for sexual misconduct and harassment claims, but small community groups and nonprofits have not needed it to function. It can be difficult to secure and prohibitively expensive, Brenden said.
“The Department of Education has been working really hard to find workarounds and provide support. Together we tried everything, turned every stone,” she said.
Ultimately, getting rid of the requirement would require a change in state law, and there was nothing that could be done quickly enough.
Many groups found out in the middle of filling out the grant applications in June that they were no longer eligible. It disqualified the South Wasco Youth Programs.
“I run a very small nonprofit organization,” Anderson said. “We bring in maybe $95,000 a year. So buy $10,000 worth of insurance? That’s not even reasonable.”
A few weeks later, the Education Service District Association announced that it could allow groups to use grant money to pay for insurance. This put Anderson on the hunt for insurance.
“By the time I applied, the money was gone,” she says.
Brenden said groups were emailing and calling asking them what happened.
“After that, there were some really tough talks,” she said. “It’s a finite pot of dollars. It’s not available forever. We went back to ODE and asked, ‘Are there any more dollars for these organizations?’ And we’re told there aren’t any,” she said.
Matt Boulay, executive director of the Salem Art Association, was able to secure the additional insurance for his group by mid-July and submitted his grant application in time to receive funding. But because it all came so late, the group will use some of the grant money to continue funding activities through the end of the year.
“It was unnecessary to let this process run in the middle of summer,” Boulay said. “It’s not insurance necessary for our operations, it’s insurance necessary to comply with a requirement that is outdated and misplaced by the legislature.”
Fewer groups got more money
Average grants increased from $75,000 in 2021 to $150,000 this year as fewer groups received money. In Multnomah County, 165 groups received grants last year. This year there were 96. But the total awards for the county this year were nearly $1.2 million more than the previous year.
Woodburn-based nonprofit organization CAPACES received $385,000, almost double its 2021 award. The additional money enabled the group to offer programs in Salem, Turner and MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, as well as Woodburn, Executive Director Jaime Arredondo said .
CAPACES ran a youth trades training academy, took students on coastal field trips, and hired parents and community members to teach culture-specific programs on cuisine, language and indigenous medicine.
“It’s kind of an added value, as the state gets a workforce from people who can give back to their communities,” Arredondo said.
Larger grants also helped defray the increased costs of programs due to inflation for many community groups, Brenden said.
“If we look at cost inflation, transportation alone was four times more expensive than last year,” Brenden said.
Brenden said the Education Service District Association would consider taking over the grant agency again next year, but she would hire more staff and start earlier.
She said the state should consider providing additional funding to help community-based groups pay for insurance required by the state.
Because scholarship recipients were not required to report how much of their allocated scholarship budget went towards paying for supplemental insurance, Brenden is not certain how much of the state’s total summer learning funding went towards covering insurance costs.
Brenden said the state should also require the insurance industry to make it easier for small groups to cover claims for sexual abuse and harassment.
“If nonprofits need to do this now to do business, then we need to tell the industry that this should be the standard.”
She said the state must commit to long-term funding for summer programs, not to decide from year to year, as it has done for the past two years.
“You have to make a decision to make it sustainable,” she said. “And tell them that this is going to happen five years in a row. Community-based organizations cannot currently create programs.”
Despite attempts to find a legal solution, Senator Michael Dembrow of D-Portland said it was proving difficult. Dembrow campaigned for the summer tuition benefit and asked the Legislative Policy and Research Office to look into what could be done to change the rules around compulsory insurance.
“I don’t think there’s anything we can do to eliminate their insurance needs, but we will make it clear that their grant can cover the costs,” Dembrow said in a text. The Senate Education Committee will begin planning discussions in October to try to resolve issues ahead of next year’s legislature. Dembrow said the goal is to fund summer learning grants for the next two summers to provide some consistency to community organizations that want to continue offering robust programs.
“The goal will be to set next year’s funding early in the legislature so they can plan with certainty sooner than in the past,” he said.