Santa Cruz County and City approved funding for more than 50 programs that serve community needs on Tuesday, funding that will last for the next three-year cycle.
The announcement comes after a tumultuous awards process that cut some programs’ funding in half and left others wholly defunded. Several nonprofit leaders criticized the Collective of Results and Evidence-based (CORE) investments program—the application has been deemed time-consuming, and weight is placed on random questions using a grading rubric that hasn’t proven fair. There has also been a lack of transparency in the final award decisions.
CORE was created in 2015 as a way to establish a more fair and standardized awards process, according to comments by County Supervisors and County Human Services Director Randy Morris. Santa Cruz County Human Services Department (HSD) and the City of Santa Cruz co-founded the program, evolving since it was first implemented in 2015.
Organizations applied for funding for 128 programs, requesting a total of $16 million. Over 50 programs were approved for the financing, splitting up the $6 million the county and City of Santa Cruz dished out for the nonprofits.
Since the initial award recommendations were announced earlier this month, HSD has been working to address some of the concerns raised at the June 7 meeting, while nonprofits have been busy appealing their awards (or lack of). Organizations had two weeks to make their appeals, and HSD received 19 appeals from local service organizations: none were approved, and no changes were made based on their appeals.
There have been changes to the award sizes to programs: both the County and City unanimously approved reducing all medium and large awards by 10% to fund five additional programs. They also approved reallocating money initially for the Harm Reduction Coalition of Santa Cruz County (HRC), which will be distributed to the five programs.
This action was approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors, with some saying that the County’s Health Services Agency already provides similar services. There were also references that the HRC’s policy was not aligned with County policies, but details of that reasoning were explained in a closed session, according to Morris. At the Tuesday Santa Cruz City Council meeting, Council Members Justin Cummings and Sandy Brown voted against the motion to defund HRC.
Brown called the decision to defund the HRC “political.”
Cummings argued that HRC was awarded the money under the same process as every other organization and that the organization deserved the funds awarded to adhere to a fair process.
“They had been approved through this process,” said Cummings. “They have an evidence-based approach to how to provide services to our community. They went through this process just like every other organization that was approved, and I believe that we should support them.”
The County and City will also contribute an additional $500,000 combined in one-time funding to provide a three-month grace period for those organizations that were previously funded more than $25,000 and had their awards slashed. This additional money comes thanks to a mixture of state funding and forgoing giving that grace period to programs awarded less than $25,000.
In December, HSD will present a report that promises to provide performance tracking for the programs awarded, explore other funding sources for agencies, not awards, and reflect on the process overall. Council members asked for the next cycle’s funding process to include more transparency, an application accessible for smaller organizations, and more.
“I have pages and pages of notes. Even though we tried to simplify the application process, it was very difficult to navigate,” said Council Member Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson. “Smaller organizations don’t have the capacity to hire grant writers. We need to expand the scoring rubric criteria and explain it to applicants ahead of time. Those are just a few things.”