For the first time in eight years, Santa Monica nonprofit organizations will soon be able to apply to receive money from the City through the Human Services Grants Program (HSGP).
Established in the 1970s, the HSGP was created to financially assist organizations that provide Santa Monicans with services including food assistance, mental health care, job training and childcare, among others.
Application cycles for the program are intended to occur on a regular, four-year basis; however, the new cycle has been pushed back multiple times, meaning that no new organizations have been able to receive funding from the program since 2015 (the last time applications were open). City council granted a two year extension to the cycle in 2019 to allow for community input on the program and changes to be made to align it more closely with the City’s goals and newly adopted Framework for a Sustainable City of Wellbeing. The cycle was extended yet again in 2021 due to the onslaught of COVID 19.
The new funding cycle is now set to begin in July 2023, with close to $8 million to be distributed between the selected organizations.
Council approved a new set of funding guidelines for the program last week and authorized City staff to release a Request for Proposals (RFP) to solicit applications for the upcoming cycle.
In the years since the last cycle, the City has made significant changes to the HSGP in response to community feedback. Scoring criteria used to select grantees was revised to include a greater focus on an organization’s program outcomes, past performance and collaboration with other agencies. City staff presented these changes at last week’s meeting and also emphasized the importance of “depth” versus “breadth” of services in the selection process, with which council-members agreed.
“It’s not just about how many people does an agency serve, but really what are the outcomes attached to that service,” Councilmember Gleam Davis said. “So, I’m assuming, for example if someone says, ‘we can service 100 people, but we don’t know what effect that service is having on their lives,’ versus someone who may only be serving 40 people but we can observe that having a positive impact in our community — we’re going to sort of weigh that differently.”
City staff also highlighted the importance of spreading funding among different vulnerable populations — with a specific focus on people experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, seniors and youth and families — recommending that services targeted at any one of these groups receive no more than 40% of total funding.
City staff also recommended that the City partner with the We Are Santa Monica Fund Advisory Board to help recruit a diverse and qualified panel to review applications, specifically individuals with expertise in social services, financial services and nonprofit management who have familiarity with local human services.
“I’m happy to see that there’s a commitment to ensuring that we practice equity and inclusiveness,” Councilmember Oscar de la Torre said at the meeting. However, he added that he does see room for improvement in terms of making funding accessible to more organizations.
In order to be eligible to receive funds from the HSGP, an agency must be a registered nonprofit 501(c)3 organization with a board of directors or a hospital or educational institution with a governing board. They also must maintain an accounting system in compliance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, a set of financing rules considered best practices in the industry.
“There are some programs in the community that I think are worthy of being funded and supported but some of them don’t have the organizational capacity according to the criteria that you have but they’re very worthy programs,” said de la Torre. He also said that he thinks scoring criteria should be made more robust to ensure greater diversity among grantees.
Ivy Chang, a senior analyst with the division of housing and human services who presented at the meeting, responded that she hopes the new review board will allow for this.
“We’re hoping that all of you on council in addition to the We Are Santa Monica Fund advisory board can help us with that recruitment to make sure that review panel is knowledgeable and really informed of new emerging practices to make sure that is reflected in their scoring,” she said
The council unanimously (7-0) approved the program changes and the RFP is set to be released in fall of this year, at which point qualified organizations will be able to apply for funding for the 2023-27 cycle.