Thanks to the billions lost when Colorado businesses shut down in the early days of the pandemic — and the bottom dropped out of state sales tax revenue — Southeast nonprofits working to combat poverty and crime will receive much less money from the Transforming Safety grant program for 2020-21.
In a typical year, the state splits $4 million between Aurora and Southeast Colorado Springs, two areas hit hardest by crime and poverty. This year, COVID took a toll on the state budget, with the grant portion of the Transforming Safety program on the chopping block for a $1 million cut.
That means fewer dollars to combat crime in Southeast, and less support for nonprofits working with youths, families and entrepreneurs in the area.
The program works like this: Colorado’s Justice Reinvention Crime Prevention bill passed in 2017, aimed at reducing Colorado’s growing prison population — and the $1 billion the state spends to incarcerate adults and juveniles each year — all by stopping crime before it happens. The program allocated $4 million in annual savings from the state parole fund to finance $1 million in low-interest small business loans and $3 million in grants for nonprofits, schools and local governments that offer support for families and young people at the grassroots level, all designed to help prevent incarceration. North Aurora and Southeast Colorado Springs were chosen as the program’s pilot communities.
But then came COVID-19.
“In 2020, as part of the more than $3 billion in COVID-19-related budget cuts made by the legislature, the overall Transforming Safety grant fund was decreased from $3 million to $2 million for both North Aurora and [Southeast] Colorado Springs,” said Mina Liebert, director of community impact for the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, which works alongside the Denver Foundation to manage the grant review process.
In previous years, the funds were distributed in two rounds — one in the spring and one in the fall — but because of the timing of the state fiscal year, Liebert said both rounds were consolidated into one, “furthering the strain on grant allocation.”
In 2019, 21 Southeast Colorado Springs organizations shared $1.93 million in Transforming Safety funding. But in 2020, only $860,000 was made available and only seven nonprofits received funds.
One of those was WeighOut Ministries — a nonprofit that works with kids both during school and in extracurricular activities in Southeast.
Pastor Chauncey LaBrie, its co-founder and CEO, said WeighOut was fortunate to receive the same amount of grant funding in 2020 that it had in past years, which comprises the majority of its funding.
LaBrie said the grant has allowed the organization to build and expand several community programs for Southeast kids, such as its lunchtime check-in program with students at Carmel Middle School, its Youth Basketball Academy and its Community All Star Program, which uses tiered levels of incentives to empower kids to make positive choices.
And while WeighOut’s funding will remain stable for at least this year, LaBrie said it’s “very important” the funds remain in place in future years for WeighOut to keep providing their programs for local kids — and develop new programs.
Second Chance Through Faith also received funding this year. The group is a faith-based nonprofit that works with at-risk youths, primarily on gang intervention and prevention.
Lisa Medina, executive director of SCTF, said the organization received $10,000 less this year.
“There’s such a shortage of funding in the community to do some of the things we do with the kids. So the grant helped us do more activities with them, purchase more supplies for the things we do with them in-house, and be able to compensate staff who work with them.”
This year, Medina said the SCTF will likely have to reduce the number of kids they can reach.
And if the pandemic continues to impact the Transforming Safety program in 2021 — budget analysts say more cuts are on the horizon — Medina said Southeast residents will feel the effects.
“Before Transforming Safety, our community was suffering financially,” Medina said. “Many of these kids’ parents — they’re barely making it and they don’t have any options for their kids as far as programs because in the real world, nothing’s free. So it’s going to be vital to the health of our community to continue the successes that we’re starting to see come out of this initiative. Because it’s been a blessing. It really is transforming lives.”