A growing number of foundations in western Pennsylvania are re-evaluating whether they can continue to sponsor public projects that were once fully funded by government agencies, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
In the wake of the economic downturn, government agencies in Pennsylvania began to seek out partnerships with local foundations to help keep their budgets in line and public programs running. Area projects that would not have been launched without private support include the Mellon Square renovation in Pittsburgh, which was completed thanks to an injection of funds from the Heinz Endowments and Colcom, Richard King Mellon, and Hillman Family foundations.
At its upcoming board meeting in October, however, Heinz plans to discuss whether to continue funding such projects at a time when its government partners are cutting back. "There was no 'gotcha moment,' in terms of a particular grant, but it is clear that going back to the recession, the mood of the country was then that government funding had to be reduced significantly," said Heinz Endowments president Robert Vagt. "In recent years, there has not been the political will to restore much of that, and clearly the loss is at such a high level that foundations cannot begin to supplement it."
According to the Tribune-Review, foundations in the region began to partner with local governments in 2004, when more than a hundred tax-exempt groups in southwestern Pennsylvania pledged a total of $13.5 million over three years in PILOT fees to launch the Pittsburgh Public Service Fund. Since then, private foundations in the region have sponsored a range of projects, including enhancements to city parks and land conservation initiatives, fitness programs for children, affordable housing initiatives, and teacher training. But some foundations say their charitable dollars should be used for programs that do more than just perpetuate the status quo or maintain public services.
"Are we filling the gap? Absolutely," said Heritage Community Initiatives CEO Michele Atkins. "Should we be filling the gap? No. But who's going to take care of these people while our leaders are having the big debate?"