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Law Students Advocate for Program Before City Council

UC Law students Jerrod Fussnecker and Chris Kaiser had the opportunity to speak before Cincinnati City Council’s Finance Committee recently about the impact of proposed funding cuts to local social service agency The YWCA Battered Women’s Shelter. Both Fussnecker and Kaiser are participants in the Domestic Violence and Civil Protection Order clinic, which regularly works with the agency.

Last year, Cincinnati City Council created a ranking system for agencies seeking city funds. The changes in the process meant that instead of funding 75 agencies, 27 received all of the money they asked for instead of partial amounts as in the past. Council’s goal was to be able to make a bigger impact with tighter dollars. One result, unfortunately, was that some agencies who had received money for years didn’t this time.

Law Students Speak Out

 “Professor Margaret Drew notified the clinic that the YWCA's Women's Shelter had not received funding from the city this year,” said 3L Jerrod Fussnecker.  “The more I thought about it that day, and the more I talked about it with other students and Professor Drew, the more outraged I became,” commented Kaiser. “That afternoon, I offered to help in any way I could and Professor Drew suggested we address the Finance Committee at its special hearing.”

In the meantime, Fussnecker and several other clinic students conducted research on the funding and discovered that the city had not implemented human services funding according to its own rules.

 “I worked for former councilman John Cranley through the law school's legal externship class,” said Fussnecker. “Before the meeting I went and spoke to Gina Marsh, who was Councilman Cranley's chief of staff and now holds that position for Councilman Greg Harris. She reviewed my analysis which stated that the administration had failed to adhere to the city's rule that the city fund no more than 10% of a human service organization's budget.  Ms. Marsh indicated this failure had not been brought to council's attention. 

“She then introduced me to Councilwoman Roxanne Qualls. I spoke to Ms. Qualls about what I thought was improper funding.  Ms. Qualls seemed interested in how the funding plan council approved was improperly implemented and this encouraged me to focus on the 10% rule when I spoke at the hearing.”

Fussnecker and Kaiser collaborated about how to approach the council and decided on a strategy. “We thought it would be important to point out both that council had not adhered to its own recommendations in implementing its new budget and that YWCA's services are unique and critical to the community,” said Kaiser. “Jerrod knew more about the internal recommendations from his own research, so I addressed the committee regarding the importance of the YWCA's services within council's stated priority area of Homelessness and Emergency Services.  My argument boiled down to two main points: First, no other organization provides the services YWCA does to survivors of domestic abuse, and second, those services actually prevent poverty and homelessness in the city because of the direct link between homelessness and domestic abuse.”

Continued Fussnecker, “I tried to stress that council could solve the funding problem by merely adhering to the funding rules it had adopted.  Particularly, it did not adhere to the rule which states that the city will fund only 10% of an organization's budget.  $1.2 million of the $1.9 million city council funded to the 27 human services organizations this year was in excess of the 10% rule.  By adhering to its own 10% rule, council would be able to fund the majority if not all of the nearly 50 organizations that were denied funding this year.

“It appeared that council was not aware that the few organizations that received funding this year received too much money according to council's own rules.  Many of the council members seemed to ‘get it’ after I mentioned that $1.2 million in excess was funded to these organizations and that the excess could be used to fund the organizations that were left out.”

“I thought Jerrod's piece drew the most pronounced reaction among anyone we heard speak,” said Kaiser. “I believe it had a lot to do with the fact that his argument was not just a plea, but a cogent and compelling policy argument.

Making An Impact

“Throughout the hearing I was wondering whether the Committee had already made up its mind about what to do; and,  I was hoping that in the event they ultimately decided to restore funding to some human services providers, the YWCA would be included among them,” said Kaiser.

He continued, “I feel the collective backlash against the proposed human services budget made an impact.  It's difficult to say whether things would have turned out differently with or without any particular presentation, but I believe as a whole, the tremendous turnout for the hearing and the collective indignation was heard by the Committee, and it got results.”

Thoughts to Take Away From the Experience

“I was impressed by the large showing of supporters for human service organizations throughout the city,” said Fussnecker, “and would enjoy the opportunity to advocate for such groups again in the future. Concurred Kaiser, ““It felt good to speak out against a policy measure I felt was poor and misguided, and I would welcome the opportunity to do so again if the need were to arise.”