FARGO - North Dakota's largest shelter for women and children, Cass County YWCA, is asking legislators for more funding, but one senator here says it will be a challenge to meet all needs when Gov. Doug Burgum is calling for budget cuts in the upcoming legislative session.
Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, was one of several legislators at a YWCA briefing Thursday, Sept, 20, in Fargo that focused on important issues the YWCA addresses, including domestic violence, homelessness, human trafficking and early childhood development.
The senator said that while YWCA's services are important and should be adequately funded, Burgum is calling for a 5 to 10 percent budget cut in agencies statewide.
"How can that stack up against these needs?" Mathern said.
But Erin Prochnow, YWCA CEO, said that insufficient funding makes it difficult to provide housing, education and other resources to the 1,500 women and children the organization serves each year.
Last legislative session, Prochnow said there was an 80 percent reduction in housing grants. The allocation went from $1.5 million to $300,000. As for the housing incentive fund, no funding was appropriated in the 2017 legislative session. The impact of that meant only 19 percent of the 314 women and children eligible for the YWCA's supportive housing program were accepted.
However, the YWCA did receive $500,000 to help develop West Fargo's Grace Garden, a $7.1 million project to house 75 people. And in 2016, the YWCA opened its first two housing units specifically for victims of human trafficking. About 60 women and children received nearly 2,300 nights of shelter in the new units.
YWCA has set a goal of increasing the number of transitional housing units from 32 units now to 62 by the end of 2020.
"It's a program that works and a program that should be funded," Prochnow said.
Mathern said that there is a need for more affordable housing options and he is prepared to advocate for the YWCA's budget requests.
"It's a challenge and that's why it's so important that there are meetings like this with advocates that are more specific with what the needs are so the citizens are more empowered to ask that of their legislators," he said. "I find sometimes that social service agencies are less assertive than, for example, road construction companies, energy companies. There's a lot of asks and a lot of needs-education, infrastructure. And social service agencies need to recognize that their ask is just as important as all of the others."
Mathern said that in early December, legislators will have a budget presented by Burgum before the legislative sessions kicks off in January.
"And that budget," he said, "will be the first clue as to whether or not these needs have been listened to."