With half the fiscal year gone, New York State has still not presented a funding contract to the Women’s Opportunity Center. It took months for the Department of Labor’s Displaced Homemaker Programs to pay outstanding bills in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, and the center has still not received a state funding contract for 2020-2021.
In October 2020, a lack of promised vouchers pressed the center into significant budget cuts and employee layoffs. Now, the center has secured their early-pandemic funding, and they’ve successfully rehired some staff members.
“We are working on a slightly smaller overall level of staffing, but they’re all pretty good people, and we are managing to get everything done,” said Susan Barnett Ph.D. ’04, the center’s board chair.
However, the center requires state funding to meet nearly half of its needs. Other funding sources include the Mary Durham boutique, a used clothing store affiliated with the center, and local government. For the 2020-2021 fiscal year, however, Tompkins County has lowered the center’s funding from $45,000 to $37,000.
Barnett is concerned about the situation. There’s no certainty that state funding will ever appear. “Until you get a signed contract and money back in the bank, you never quite know,” she said.
The Women’s Opportunity Center provides career counseling and training programs in order to help clients in poverty who are facing obstacles in the job market. Along with their financial issues, the center struggles to serve its clients online as well as it did in-person. The center has restarted some in-person sessions, but the majority take place over Zoom as cases surge in Tompkins County.
“Some of the women that we serve haven’t really had any experience with computers,” Barnett said. “Some people don’t even know how to turn the computer on.”
In light of this, most of the center’s current in-person sessions teach clients to use computers and online softwares. Despite the barriers that Zoom classes present, Barnett appreciated the center’s new ability to reach clients across a broader geographic area.
The Women’s Opportunity Center works to employ clients at the Mary Durham Boutique. The boutique remains open, operating on a reduced number of days and hours. It adheres to COVID-19 guidelines and social distancing rules, limiting the number of customers allowed in the store.
“We wanted to keep it going because it can be a little bit of revenue,” Barnett said. Although it isn’t the main form of economic support for the center, it does support some of their operations.
Though the center faces difficulties, Barnett and the staff believe that things will improve. The boutique provides a small source of income, though it doesn’t fully support the center.
“If some of the COVID relief makes it to the states, maybe they’ll sort it out,” Barnett said. “We’re hopeful, but we are still concerned about that.”
Correction, Feb. 19, 3:36 p.m.: A previous version of this story misstated information about staff pay over the last six months. The staff is being paid. The story also misstated that the center oversees clients to work at stores across Ithaca, not just the boutique. This post has since been updated.