Michael Suguitan / Sun Staff Photographer

The Women's Opportunity Center has faced funding struggles and lay-offs recently, but is hoping additional funding will help combat its issues.

October 9, 2020

State Funding Remains Uncertain for the Women’s Opportunity Center

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After state budget cuts forced the Women’s Opportunity Center to lay off seven employees at the beginning of October, the center has made progress in its struggle for government funding.

The center, which hopes to keep its services free and accessible despite its financial troubles, provides women with assistance in finding financial stability through job training programs, career development advice and personal support.

The center holds a year-long contract with the Department of Labor’s Displaced Homemaker Programs. However, from March to July, the DOL did not send any payments to the center.

Last week, the DOL sent the March payment voucher and informed the center that the other missing payments should arrive by Friday

With the March voucher, executive director Ryan Harriott hired two new administrators last week. These administrators integrate new clients into training programs, and they help Harriott keep the center running. Harriott hopes to bring her full team back from layoffs, but she’s waiting for more information from the DOL.

According to the center’s records, the vouchers from April to July add up to $97,929.81. This amount covers nearly half of all operational costs for the Syracuse center and the Ithaca center for those months. It also supports the Mary Durham Boutique, a secondhand women’s clothing store that the center operates.

The center’s own certificate of deposit and savings accounts cover these expenses now, according to Harriott.

However, Women’s Opportunity Center board chair Susan Barnett doubts that the missing vouchers will arrive on time. “With the state, it’s always difficult to know exactly what they’re going to pay,” she said.

The DOL did not explicitly announce that it would send the missing vouchers. The center’s board found out through Tanner Harding, an Ithaca Times reporter. Harding got through to Freeman Klopott, a public relations worker in the Division of the Budget, and learned the DOL’s plan.

According to Barnett, the DOL has consistently brushed aside the center’s own inquiries for months.

“I don’t know whether they already had the plan to send us the money, or if it just happened to coincide with us kicking up a fuss,” Barnett said.

Additionally, the DOL has announced nothing about the contract for 2020 to 2021. The center normally finalizes their DPH agreement in July. However, it remains unclear whether the center will receive any government funding through this program for the 2020 to 2021 year.

If the center does, it will likely see a 21 percent budget cut. Last spring, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced that all state-contracted nonprofits would get this reduction if economic circumstances do not improve.

“If they give us 80 percent or 79 percent of what we usually get for the coming year, that would be great,” Barnett told The Sun.

With new cost-cutting practices, the center could hire back staff and run nearly as usual. Limited DOL funding is better than none.

Last week, Harriott contacted the DOL to confirm this plan, but she has received “no answer at all from them.”

Additionally, the center has no information on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides funding support to center clients who rely on food stamps. Food insecurity has become more prevalent in Ithaca since the start of the pandemic, so this clientele will likely grow.

Tompkins County has also confirmed that it will cut the center’s funding. County administrator Jason Molino has communicated openly with Harriott since spring. For the 2019 to 2020 year, Tompkins County lowered the center’s funding to around $45,000. For 2020 to 2021, the county will provide the center with only $37,000.

Until the DOL announces a concrete plan, Harriott said the center has pursued other sources of funding, including the Triad Foundation — a local organization that helps nonprofits.

She hopes they can provide guidance and support the center’s training program so that she can meet her goal of keeping the center’s services going.

The center still requires more funding for long-term stability. Harriott is also working to develop a pandemic strategy with the center’s board and committee members and will soon decide new policies to proceed with limited funding.

“We’re starting to do some planning,” Harriott said. “There’s a lot that we have to talk about.”