Thursday, December 15, 2011

1 in 2 Americans are now poor or low income

Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans — nearly 1 in 2 — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.

The latest census data depict a middle class that's shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government's safety net frays. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.

"Safety net programs such as food stamps and tax credits kept poverty from rising even higher in 2010, but for many low-income families with work-related and medical expenses, they are considered too 'rich' to qualify," said Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor who specializes in poverty.

"The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near poor are dismal," he said. "If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years."

•Study: 1 in 5 American children lives in poverty
Congressional Republicans and Democrats are sparring over legislation that would renew a Social Security payroll tax cut, part of a year-end political showdown over economic priorities that could also trim unemployment benefits, freeze federal pay and reduce entitlement spending.

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, questioned whether some people classified as poor or low-income actually suffer material hardship. He said that while safety-net programs have helped many Americans, they have gone too far, citing poor people who live in decent-size homes, drive cars and own wide-screen TVs.

With nearly 14 million Americans unemployed, a new child welfare study finds one in five children are living in poverty. Nearly one in three live in homes where no parent works full-time year-round. NBC's Chris Jansing reports.
"There's no doubt the recession has thrown a lot of people out of work and incomes have fallen," Rector said. "As we come out of recession, it will be important that these programs promote self-sufficiency rather than dependence and encourage people to look for work."

Mayors in 29 cities say more than 1 in 4 people needing emergency food assistance did not receive it. Many middle-class Americans are dropping below the low-income threshold — roughly $45,000 for a family of four — because of pay cuts, a forced reduction of work hours or a spouse losing a job. Housing and child-care costs are consuming up to half of a family's income.

States in the South and West had the highest shares of low-income families, including Arizona, New Mexico and South Carolina, which have scaled back or eliminated aid programs for the needy. By raw numbers, such families were most numerous in California and Texas, each with more than 1 million.

The struggling Americans include Zenobia Bechtol, 18, in Austin, Texas, who earns minimum wage as a part-time pizza delivery driver. Bechtol and her 7-month-old baby were recently evicted from their bedbug-infested apartment after her boyfriend, an electrician, lost his job in the sluggish economy.

After an 18-month job search, Bechtol's boyfriend now works as a waiter and the family of three is temporarily living with her mother.

"We're paying my mom $200 a month for rent, and after diapers and formula and gas for work, we barely have enough money to spend," said Bechtol, a high school graduate who wants to go to college. "If it weren't for food stamps and other government money for families who need help, we wouldn't have been able to survive."

About 97.3 million Americans fall into a low-income category, commonly defined as those earning between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty level, based on a new supplemental measure by the Census Bureau that is designed to provide a fuller picture of poverty. Together with the 49.1 million who fall below the poverty line and are counted as poor, they number 146.4 million, or 48 percent of the U.S. population. That's up by 4 million from 2009, the earliest numbers for the newly developed poverty measure.

Read more here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Charting a Decade of Online Donations

Charting a Decade of Online Donations
November 23, 2011, 11:04 am
By Cody Switzer
Only 4 percent of donors had given online in 2001. This year, about 65 percent have given to charity through the Internet.

That’s one of the comparisons made in a new graphic from Network for Good, a fund-raising and volunteerism Web site that celebrates its 10th anniversary this month.

In 2001, the average donation through the site was $226. But this year the average gift is $73, a change that Network for Good interprets as a sign that online giving has “gone mainstream.”

Here’s the full graphic:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Questions and Scrutiny Grow Over Monroe County Nonprofit Development Corporation

A lawyer with close ties to Monroe County forms a nonprofit local development corporation to handle a $99 million county contract. He names himself and two friends as the board of directors. The friends are not told of their roles and never participate in a proceeding of the board. One of them is aghast to learn seven years later that he was ever a director.

The scenario illustrates the convoluted origins of Upstate Telecommunications Corp. and raises questions about the validity of the corporation and its 16-year contract to manage the county's vast information technology network, according to nearly a dozen experts in nonprofit law, including lawyers who regulated nonprofit corporations for New York state.

Specifically, how did Upstate Telecommunications become functional without input from its founding directors? And did the directors who approved contracting with the county have the authority to act?

Answers remain elusive because the corporation claims it cannot locate records that could shed light on the matter, and its incorporating attorney, Michael Townsend, has declined to answer questions about the founding.

The notion that a local development corporation with a multimillion-dollar county contract would be formed unbeknownst to most of its founding directors baffled experts briefed on the scenario.

All of them cast the situation as an example of poor corporate governance, but most agreed that questions of the corporation's validity would not alone unravel its contract — a scenario with potentially dire consequences for the county.

"The consequences of a corporation not being a valid corporation are sort of unclear," said Amy Lavine, a senior staff attorney at Albany Law School's Government Law Center, where she writes extensively about nonprofit public benefit corporations. "A court might treat it like a corporation if it's been acting like one. In the real world, how do you undo a $99 million contract that's halfway done?"

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has subpoenaed Upstate Telecommunications for documentation about its founding and finances as part of an investigation into Monroe County local development corporations with state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Read more here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NY comptroller says late checks hurt nonprofits

NY comptroller says late checks hurt nonprofits
Nov. 15, 2011, 3:01 a.m. EST
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says late contract approvals and payments by the state are hurting nonprofit providers and jeopardizing services.

DiNapoli says state agencies last year were on average six months late in approving nine out of 10 contracts valued at $50,000 or more, often after services were provided.

An analysis of the first half of 2011 shows nearly 90 percent of contracts approved by the comptroller were submitted late by state agencies.

DiNapoli says nonprofits operate on thin margins and provide basic services ranging from health care clinics to work programs, with 22,000 active grant contracts totaling $16.8 billion.

The nonprofit sector employed 1.25 million people statewide last year.

You can access the article by Clicking Here.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Community Profits on Strength of Nonprofit Sector

Community profits on strength of nonprofit sector
Business First by Tracey Drury, Buffalo Business First Reporter
Date: Wednesday, November 2, 2011, 3:13pm EDT.
Tracey DruryBuffalo Business First Reporter - Business FirstEmail

Today’s the day I finally exhale, as the final pieces of our Million Dollar Nonprofits research report go out the door to the printer.
But by day’s end, I’ll be holding my breath once again - waiting for the report to land in the hands of the region’s nonprofit community. The report, to many, represents sort of a report card on how those execs are doing in their daily jobs of running a $2 billion sector.
The report is a compilation of several months of research into the region’s largest nonprofit organizations, each with revenue of at least $1 million. The 282 agencies on the list this year have a major economic impact in the eight-county region, employing nearly 53,000 people and providing services to hundreds of thousands.
And they do it all without profits in mind.
Our list includes a wide variety of organiations, including human service agencies providing programs for poor, individuals with disabilities and seniors, as well as cultural and arts groups, health-related organizations and others that work on business or economic development issues. Narrowing the field on what types of organizations to include has been a work in progress over the past 10 years, as we’ve included, then taken out again such groups as hospitals and health systems and health insurers - despite their status as nonprofit corporations.
Our list is part of the All About Nonprofits special publication, which also includes a list of the top corporate philanthropists in the region; foundations ranked by total grants paid; and a list of nonprofit fundraising events for 2012.
One of the most closely watched pieces of this report every year is the salary listings. Though we don’t get as many complaints any more about why we list them, I almost always hear from people thanking us for helping shed some light on compensation. As we said before, these agencies operate without profits in mind, but that doesn’t mean the executives working there are doing it for free.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

COAE Conference October 19th

Gov's Nonprofit Compensation Probe reported that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's probe of executive pay at nonprofits is bumping up against some of the state's best-known charities with strong ties to the most powerful people in Albany, including the speaker of the Assembly and the governor himself.

Two weeks ago, a state task force named by Mr. Cuomo began asking nonprofits to submit detailed information to the Cuomo administration about their executive pay levels and compensation policies. The task force said it is collecting information on a rolling basis from all nonprofits that receive funding from the state.

But one nonprofit that had not received a request by Wednesday is HELP USA, a homeless housing group founded by Mr. Cuomo in the 1980s. The governor's sister, Maria Cuomo Cole, is the group's chairperson, and its board of directors includes Mr. Cuomo's campaign treasurer Richard Sirota and Jeffrey Sachs, one of his closest health-care advisers, according to HELP's website.

HELP operates homeless shelters and develops low-income housing around the nation and gets most of its $71 million budget from federal, state and city contracts and grants, according to its tax filings.

The nonprofit paid its chief executive, Laurence Belinsky, $546,000 in 2008—including a $157,000 bonus—and $508,000 in 2009, according to IRS filings. His salary is more than 40% higher than the median salary of chief executives of nonprofits based in the Northeast with operating budgets of more than $13 million, according to Charity Navigator, a prominent charity database.

Mr. Belinsky couldn't be reached for comment.

Another powerful group that hasn't received a letter is the Greater New York Hospital Association, which represents many Medicaid-dependent hospitals in the city region and pays its chief executive $2 million a year, according to tax filings.

After a reporter inquired about the status of data requests to HELP and the hospital association, a state official said on Thursday that the task force had mailed letters to the groups.

Meanwhile, one of the first groups to get the request was the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, a social service group run by William Rapfogel, the husband of the chief of staff to Democratic Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver. Mr. Rapfogel received a $435,000 pay package in 2009, tax filings show.

A spokesman for the taskforce said all nonprofits that receive government money would eventually receive a request for information.

"There are thousands of not-for-profits that we are looking at, so we are sending the letters in waves on a rolling basis," said the spokesman.

Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause, which advocates for transparent government, said the governor's investigation would be successful only if all charities are treated equally.

"You need an objective standard by which to judge what is or is not excessive compensation. Where are we headed with this?" Ms. Lerner said.

Jeff Stonecash, a Syracuse University political science professor, said Mr. Cuomo's probe was treading on politically sensitive ground. "There are some pitfalls here, but there's a lot of gain if he can get the right headlines," he said.

Josh Vlasto, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, said the investigation would be fair.

"Politics never got in the way of investigations before, and it won't now. If you think otherwise, just ask Pedro Espada," Mr. Vlasto said, referring to the former Democratic Bronx state senator whom Mr. Cuomo investigated while attorney general.

Mr. Cuomo's investigative foray into state-subsidized charities has been the object of much interest and anxiety around the nonprofit world. The governor has promised a wide-ranging review, an undertaking that could be handled by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office regulates charities.

The governor has been praised for drawing more attention to nonprofit executive pay as it has stretched deeper into six and seven figures. But, depending on how Mr. Cuomo navigates those loyalties and rivalries within the nonprofit world, the task force also carries political risk.

"I can't see that he isn't smart enough or ethical enough to see that it would be problematic to target only organizations with whom he has no connection," said Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, a Lower Manhattan Democrat who introduced a bill this year to limit compensation for hospital executives.

Mr. Cuomo assembled the task force in early August in the wake of a New York Times article that scrutinized the executive compensation of a Medicaid-financed nonprofit group that reportedly paid two of its top executives close to $1 million a year. He put two of his most trusted aides on the task force, Financial Services superintendent Benjamin Lawsky and State Inspector General Ellen Biben.

But the inquiry's goal hasn't been defined. The task force may hold hearings and issue a report, leading to potential regulatory changes and legislation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mayor Brown vetoes bill that would aid arts groups reported about a new wrinkle surfaced in City Hall's plan to provide grants to dozens of arts and cultural groups after Mayor Byron W. Brown vetoed a Common Council bill.

Brown's office stressed that the mayor remains committed to providing one-time grants to arts organizations, but he objects to the way the Council has structured the aid.

As one of their final actions before leaving for summer break, lawmakers late last month unanimously approved a plan to channel $200,000 to city-based arts groups.

Under an informal deal that was hatched between the Council and the Brown administration, lawmakers would provide $100,000 from their budget lines, while the executive branch would provide another $100,000.

Mayoral spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said today that the administration remains committed to providing the money. But he said Brown objects the Council specifying how the entire $200,000 sum will be spent.

Lawmakers insist that the money should be channeled to 27 city-based arts groups that saw their Erie County funding eliminated. The Council wants to use the Funds for the Arts, a consortium of local foundations that has distributed aid to cultural groups, as a pass-through entity for the city aid.

While the mayor has "no problem" with any of the groups on the Council's list, DeGeorge said, Brown believes that he should have the right to establish his own process for distributing the $100,000 that his office is providing. All arts groups that are currently on the Council's list would be welcome to apply, as would other Buffalo-based cultural groups, DeGeorge said.

Read more here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Governor Orders Review of Executive Compensation at Nonprofits

From the Governor's Website
Albany, NY (August 3, 2011) Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that he has created a new task force to investigate the executive and administrator compensation levels at not-for-profits that receive taxpayer support from the state. The task force will be led by the New York State Inspector General Ellen Biben, Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales, the Medicaid Inspector General Jim Cox, and the Superintendent of the Department of Financial Services Benjamin Lawsky.

"Not-for-profits that provide services to the poor and the needy have a special obligation to the taxpayers that support them. Executives at these not-for-profits should be using the taxpayer dollars they receive to help New Yorkers, not to line their own pockets. This task force will do a top-to-bottom review, not only to audit current compensation levels, but also to make recommendations for future rules to ensure taxpayer dollars are used to serve and support the people of this state, not pay for excessive salaries and compensation," Governor Cuomo said.

Governor Cuomo continued, "There is a whole range of compensation levels and extremes that have existed for too long and must be reviewed. The use of taxpayer dollars must be scrutinized at every level."

The Governor's task force will determine the protocol and scope of the investigation in order to target the audit to focus on ensuring that state taxpayer dollars meant to help and protect New Yorkers, particularly the poor and indigent, are going to that purpose and are not being diverted to compensation. It will also provide recommendations for State agency policies and procedures that will ensure that taxpayer dollars are not being diverted to excessive compensation.

Commissioners from the Department of Health, the Office of Mental Health, and OPWDD will also serve on the task force.

The Governor's action follows reports of startlingly excessive salaries and compensation packages for executives at not-for-profits that depended on state Medicaid funding through the Office of People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) and other State agencies.

The State's Medicaid Inspector General has the authority necessary to exclude providers from participation in the Medicaid program if it is found that they have engaged in fraudulent or abusive practices.

There are currently no state rules governing executive and administrative compensation for not-for-profits that receive state support.

According to the Department of the Budget's January 2010 preliminary analysis of not-for-profit employees contracting with the mental hygiene agencies (Office of People With Developmental Disabilities, Office of Mental Health, and Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services), there were approximately 1,926 employees with annual salaries greater than or equal to $100,000. The total value of their salaries was $324.6 million, with an average salary of $168,555.

NYCON Statement on Governor's
Review of Executive Compensation:

"NYCON supports IRS and state enforcement efforts to root out those relatively few and often large institutional nonprofits, especially in health care and higher education, where charitable resources are used for the private and personal gain of executives. Such abuses are a stain on the sector and the Governor is right, public trust is integral to the mission and work of our state's charities. The Internal Revenue Service already provides compensation guidelines as set forth in the federal tax code and we believe those guidelines should be upheld.

It needs to be emphasized, however, that these cases are very much the exception.

The vast majority of community-based nonprofit employees are doing hard and challenging work at compensation levels that are far below public employees and often the for-profit sector. It should also be noted that the phrase "taxpayer supported nonprofits" is misleading as the state government contracts to buy services from nonprofits, just as it contracts with the for-profit sector; except the nonprofit is often expected to unfairly perform at below the actual cost of doing business. Perhaps it is also time to order an extensive review of the executive compensation levels of "taxpayer supported for-profit businesses."

NYCON asks the Governor to take this opportunity to go beyond the immediate executive compensation issue and take a comprehensive look at how the state's overall regulatory and business relationship with the nonprofit sector can be improved in the interest of all concerned."

Doug Sauer, CEO, New York Council of Nonprofits, Inc.
1-800-515-5012, ext 103

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Nominate Your CPA Board Member for Special Award!

2011 Michael H. Urbach, CPA, Community Builders Award Now Accepting Nominations
Sponsored by the New York Council of Nonprofits (NYCON) and the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants (NYSSCPA)

Submission Accepted through August 22nd, 2011

In recognition of the important role, talents and leadership that a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in New York State can provide as a board member for community-based charities, NYCON and NYSSCPA are pleased to announce the 8th Annual Michael H. Urbach, CPA, Community Builders Award.

The award is named in honor of the late Michael H. Urbach, CPA, former partner of Urbach, Kahn and Werlin, former NYS Commissioner of Tax and Finance and Chair of the State Employees federated Appeal, and board leader of a number of charities.

Award Criteria & Submission

Candidates must:

  • Be a CPA in good standing and a member of the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants;

  • Have served as an Officer on at least 3 different charitable 501(c)(3) community-based nonprofits with service as President/Chair at least once;

  • Have demonstrated exemplary board leadership resulting in significant and positive organizational impact including, but not limited to, financial turn-around, growth, and/or organizational re-structuring; and

  • Preference will be given to nominees whose board leadership accomplishments have been with community-based charities.

Deadline - August 22, 2011
Nominations addressing the candidate's qualifications must be received by August 22nd. Nominators are strongly encouraged to address the candidate's qualifications related to the four (4) criteria's mentioned above and to include at least three (3) letters of support from the charities who have benefited from the candidate's volunteer leadership.

Send seven (7) packets of nomination materials to:
Urbach Community Builders Award Committee
New York Council of Nonprofits
272 Broadway
Albany NY 12204

or email the packet to Melissa Currado, Executive Assistant to the CEO at

Announcement & Presentation
The 2011 award will be formally presented at the Annual Member Meeting of NYCON slated for the afternoon of October 6th at Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz, New York.

The Luncheon will take place during CAMP FINANCE, a two-day retreat that provides the very best in knowledge, skill and strategy sessions for your staff and volunteer leaders.

In honor of the late Harold Mandel, a certified public accountant who worked for Urbach, Kahn & Werlin in Albany, NY and retired in West Palm Beach, FL, the 2011 Urbach Honoree has the privilege to award one (1) nonprofit executive of their choice a Camp Finance scholarship in Hal's name. In 2009, Mr. Mandel's family accepted a posthumous Michael H. Urbach, CPA Community Builders Award in his tribute.

Past Urbach Award Honorees
Edward S. Mucenski, CPA of Potsdam
Lewis "Lew" Kramer, CPA of Chappaqua
Mel Zachter, CPA of Staten Island
Eugene H. Fleishman, CPA of Poughkeepsie
Craig Sickler, CPA from Kingston
Paul Battaglia, CPA from Batavia

For More Information
visit NYCON at or contact Melissa Currado at (800) 515-5012 or

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Employee Fee For Nonprofits Using NYS Unemployment Insurance

Read below about the recent news about a new fee per employee for employers related to NYS Unemployment Insurance borrowing. As a nonprofit, there is another alternative, which you can learn about from NYCON:

Find Out if the Unemployment Savings Program for NYCON Members through First Nonprofits Companies can Save You Money.

Why pay a tax if you don’t have to? Many NYCON Members have switched from paying the state unemployment tax rates to First Nonprofit Unemployment Savings Program saving up to 60% of their unemployment costs annually. Find out if you can too. Take NYCON's FREE upcoming Beneft Spotlight: Unemployment Savings Program on August 23rd from 10 am to 11am. REGISTER HERE

A Big Bill for Employers
The Albany Times Union reported that Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday rolled out a sweeping plan to help revitalize the state's economy, complete with an ad campaign and competitive grant program designed to spark innovation.

But businesses have a more immediate concern: The bill is coming due for New York's unemployment insurance.

Citing the need to borrow more than $3 billion from the federal government to prop up its chronically empty account, the state faces a whopping $95 million interest payment on loans for the fund due Sept. 30.

As a result, the state Department of Labor is assessing businesses up to $21.25 per employee to cover the cost. That payment is due Aug. 15.

Complaints about what businesses describe as a hidden tax were rolling in Tuesday after numerous employers received the notices and as Cuomo expounded on his plans for the economy.

"This is something that could -- depending on the number of employees -- be a pretty hefty cost in this economy," said Mike Durant, New York state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

When asked about the surcharge during a news conference outlining his revitalization plans, Cuomo stressed that the bill for interest is ultimately coming from Washington, D.C.

"It's a federal decision whether or not they'll waive the interest payments. I hope that they do," he said, adding that his office was pushing the state's congressional delegation on the issue.

The hefty tab illustrates what can happen as the federal stimulus program, enacted shortly after the recession started in 2008, runs out.

The Department of Labor noted that the stimulus program provided no-interest loans to the states in 2009 and 2010, but not this year.

Read more:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Reassessing nonprofits' free ride

The Buffalo News reported that as they struggle for revenue, municipalities look to tax-exempt entities to pay their 'fair share'

The New York Power Authority's 2,900-acre spread in Lewiston, including its massive Niagara Power Project, is assessed at $1.8 billion.

The Canisius College campus is assessed at $69 million.

And the assessment for Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital in Amherst is $37.7 million.

But they -- and scores of similar facilities owned or operated by nonprofits -- pay no village, town, city, school or county property taxes.

Now, local government officials here and across the country want to change this.

"It's an attempt to put a burden of the tax levy on the not-for-profits that are using services," said David C. Marrano, the Lancaster town assessor, who is negotiating payment agreements with nonprofits in the town. "At what point as a government do we ask these organizations to pay part of their fair share?"

Officials are prodding the operators of hospitals, senior housing facilities and private universities to pay something in place of property taxes.

At least 117 municipalities in 18 states -- most in the Northeast -- have reached payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreements with nonprofit organizations in the past, according to a report by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Private colleges are frequent targets of revenue-seeking governments. Several Ivy League schools, along with Syracuse University and Schenectady's Union College, pay their host cities.

Syracuse will receive $2.5 million over the next five years from the university -- its largest owner of tax-exempt property -- in a deal reached last month, the Post-Standard newspaper reported.

Locally, the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, the Episcopal Church Home & Affiliates and Hospice Buffalo all have reached payment agreements with their host communities.

Recent court cases have given the government officials leverage in negotiating these agreements, while in other cases the payments are worked out as part of the project approval process.

"We have been a partner with the Town of Cheektowaga since the origination," said Maureen Lehsten, chief financial officer for Hospice Buffalo, which operates the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care. "We work really well together. They've supported us in our growth on the campus in Cheektowaga."

Boston, Pittsburgh and other cash-strapped municipalities have become more aggressive in negotiating these agreements as they seek new sources of revenue to balance their budgets.

In response, nonprofit leaders defend their tax-exempt status and tout the services they provide that otherwise would be a government responsibility.

But it's a matter of fairness to government officials, who say exempting so many parcels from property taxes shifts too much of the burden onto other businesses and homeowners.

"We don't have anywhere to go except the taxpayer," said Mike Johnson, the Town of Lewiston's finance director.

These nonprofit institutions provide valuable services: treating the sick and poor, housing the elderly and infirm and tending to the public's spiritual or educational needs.

For this reason, schools, churches, hospitals and government offices are for the most part exempt from property tax.

Those institutions often must pay special district taxes such as water, sewer or fire.

In cities and older villages, where government buildings, religious institutions and similar structures tend to be concentrated, tax-exempt properties can account for a large proportion of all properties.

Vast sums of money
In Lewiston, where Niagara University, the Power Authority and other entities hold vast tracts of land, 67.7 percent of property in the town is not taxable, said Linda E. Johnson, the town assessor.

"We have probably the largest amount of tax-exempt land in Western New York," she said.

In Buffalo, developer Rocco Termini pointed to the construction of the new federal courthouse, at a site that previously held tax-paying businesses, and the tax-exempt research properties at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

"The costs, they're not distributed among all the buildings. Fifty percent of the buildings downtown are paying 100 percent of the tax load," Termini said. "I think everybody should pay something."

In Amherst, nearly 30 percent of property is tax exempt, said Town Assessor Harry Williams.

What if the exemptions didn't exist?

Read more here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sen. Schumer announces new website addendum

The Observer reported that Sen. Charles Schumer announced Wednesday a new addition to his website to help local non-profit organizations.

The Internal Revenue Service has recently released a list of New York non-profit organizations that have lost their tax exempt status. This list contained 275,000 nonprofits nationwide which included 19,000 non-profit organizations located in New York state.

"Upstate New York is hands down one of the best places in the country to live and raise a family. And we owe our high quality of life in large part to the tens of thousands of non-profit groups that serve our communities," Schumer said.

Approximately 562 nonprofits lost their status in the Southern Tier in addition to 687 nonprofits losing their status in Western New York.

"For several decades, large nonprofits have been required to submit an involved annual report to the federal government detailing their activities, income and expenses. But small, community-based nonprofits with limited revenue were exempt from this paper," Schumer said during a conference call.

In 2007, legislation was changed requiring all non-profit organizations to file a yearly form but most nonprofits were unaware of the new requirement, according to Schumer.

"Many of these organizations are too small to employ an accountant or tax lawyer to help them navigate the ever-changing nuances of the tax code, so they were completely unaware of the new requirement," Schumer said.

Being named on this list means, he implies, that a non-profit organization has not filed paperwork for three consecutive years. Being named on this list means nonprofits cannot continue having a nonprofit status and any income is eligible for taxation, including donations. Being eligible for taxation on donations can hinder fundraising.

If a nonprofit is on the IRS list and would like to reinstate their tax exempt status, there are various steps that must be taken.

"If a group has proof that they met the filing requirement for one or more of the last three years, they simply have to fax the form to the government, and they will be reinstated, free of charge," Schumer said.

If a group has failed to file the correct forms, forms can be resubmitted. The nonprofit status will be restored for a fee of $100 if the group has receipts that total less than $50,000 annually. The fee will increase from $100 to $850 effective Jan. 1, 2012.

Non-profit organizations who have questions about the whole process can go online to Schumer's website, for more information and for the complete IRS list of non-profit organizations which have lost their status. The complete link is

Monday, May 2, 2011

Boston Pushes PILOTs for Nonprofits

Tim Delaney, President & CEO, National Council of Nonprofits, posted to Huffington Post about the recent issue of PILOTS in Boston.

As he relates: Leaders of nonprofit organizations across America were stunned by reports this week in the Boston Globe and NPR's Marketplace that the City of Boston would turn its back on the nonprofit cultural, educational, and health care institutions that have played such vital roles in making that city great.

What stunned nonprofit leaders nationwide is that Boston sent letters essentially mandating that various nonprofits make "Payments-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes" (PILOTs) to the city based on the value of their property, even though Massachusetts law -- like the law in all 50 states -- prohibits local governments from taxing nonprofit property. What in turn shocked nonprofit leaders is how Boston intends to enforce its supposedly "voluntary" PILOT program: with a Scarlet-letter campaign designed to coerce compliance with the city's demand for "voluntary" payments.

Boston has concocted an Orwellian program that uses euphemisms -- such as "PILOTs" instead of "property taxes" and "voluntary" instead of "coerced" -- apparently attempting to hide what is really happening to evade what the law prohibits. The city, knowing the courts would strike down as an illegal act any attempt to directly impose property taxes on charitable nonprofits, invented a program to coerce "voluntary" Payments-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes. But slapping on a misleading label to cover a bad act does not render it any more acceptable; a payment based on property value is still a tax.

To enforce its legally unenforceable program, Boston has threatened to paint a Scarlet letter of shame on every nonprofit that does not comply with the city's demands for payments. Such coercion to obtain what the Commonwealth's law prohibits is outrageous and threatens everyone; who's next, when Boston -- or any government -- wants something the law prohibits?

The city's program also disregards unique aspects of nonprofit law, thus putting coerced nonprofits at risk of running afoul of the Massachusetts Attorney General, who has jurisdiction to oversee that funds donated to nonprofits are used as donors intend. By demanding that nonprofits pay the city 25 percent of their property's tax value, the city is whipsawing nonprofits, putting them in a lose-lose dilemma: either undergo the city's shameful public branding, or cave in to the city's demands to pay, only to have the Massachusetts Attorney General come after the nonprofit if donors complain that they gave their money for purposes other than transfers to the city treasury.

In trying to balance its budget on the backs of people served by charities and those who donate to them, Boston has disregarded not only the law, but also fiscal reality. The recession already has stretched nonprofits too far financially as demands for their services have skyrocketed while their revenues have nosedived, with corporate contributions declining, foundation grants down, and governments delaying payments and not paying full costs on legally-binding contracts. According to the IRS, even individual giving has sagged by 20 percent. Read more here.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Call for Arts Leadership in Western NY?

Buffalo News featured this recent perspective on the need for better arts leadership in Western NY:

The small arts groups and individual artists of Western New York can't seem to catch a break.

Last year, the flagrantly incompetent leadership of the Arts Council in Buffalo and Erie County "misspent" some $48,000 of state money intended for small arts projects like the Elmwood Festival of the Arts and Allentown's First Fridays Gallery Walk. Barring some unforeseen development, that money is unlikely to be recovered.

In response to the Arts Council's failure, the New York State Council on the Arts decided to shift its grant program for Erie County's individual artists and small organizations to the Carnegie Art Center in North Tonawanda.

That probably seemed like a prudent idea at the time, because the Carnegie had been overseeing Niagara County's version of the grant program for several years. At one time, the Carnegie and the Arts Council shared an employee, who coordinated the state council's grant program for both counties.

But the programs for both counties -- now more vital than ever in the absence of public funding for small groups -- are stalled. It turns out that the state council is withholding $113,241 of funding for the programs because the Carnegie Arts Center has not completed its 2009 tax filings, which were due last November.

This development, according to Carnegie director Mary Simpson, comes out of the organization's checkered financial history. Simpson said the organization, which she took over from former director Ellen Ryan in 2009, is in the midst of repairing accounting practices that were in disarray when she arrived. Simpson said she expects to have the tax information filed within the month.

"The Carnegie Art Center does not have the financial ability to fund the ... programs if the actual grant money is not in our accounts. NYSCA is aware of this, and I believe that the NYSCA staff respects the very difficult choices the Carnegie has made to stay fiscally viable," Simpson wrote in an e-mail to The News. "Since I became executive director in 2009, I cut the budget to balance income and expenses. Some of the cuts include printing, advertising, travel, my salary and all other personnel except for the [grant] position."

Whatever the reason for the Carnegie's financial woes -- and whether Simpson clears them up quickly -- it seems clear that the organization is in no state to administer this important program. Next year may be a different story. As it stands, the inability to file taxes on time, however excused, ought to disqualify anyone from handling more than $100,000 of public money.

The problem is that few other local organizations have the staff, time or inclination to relieve the Carnegie and get the grant program on its feet. In the past, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center has coordinated the program, a task it would be hard-pressed to accomplish now, given the Chris Collins autocracy's most recent attempt to eviscerate the local cultural industry.

Until someone else steps in or the Carnegie cleans up its act, small groups like Sloan's Arts and Cultural Council, the annual Juneteenth Festival, the Parkside Community Association's summer arts program and dozens of other community arts programs across Buffalo Niagara are out of luck.

There is a desperate need for a new organization to replace the Arts Council to foster a regionwide vision for the arts and act as a stable conduit for state funds. A noble effort on that front, supported by the state council and local foundations, with an increasing focus on the growing Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance, seems promising. But it needs to move much faster because the problem is so acute and the challenge so steep.

All of this comes after the state council underwent a major reorganization because of staff reductions and buyouts, which has angered many across the state, including Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo. On top of that, after having its budget systematically reduced for years, the council is facing yet another 10 percent cut under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed budget. This further impairs its ability to improve the state's economy by making strategic investments in the arts.

The state council's woes, in turn, add to the sense that the arts in New York State Ô and especially in Western New York -- are increasingly the victims of a political boxing match that grows more contentious by the day.

This state of affairs cannot persist. Public officials cannot continue to ignore the irrefutable evidence that public investment in the arts can play a vital role in bringing New York State back to economic prosperity. On the flip side of that coin, local arts organizations like the Carnegie need to do simple things like file their taxes on time.

It's not fair to punish community arts groups because of shortsighted politics or lax accounting. The artists and citizens of Western New York deserve better.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Crain's New York Business reported that kids raise the bar on giving

Crain's New York Business reported that kids raise the bar on giving with Facebook fundraisers, even their own foundations.

When Shannon McNamara was 13, her parents took her and her siblings to Peru during summer vacation to volunteer in an orphanage.

“At the beginning of the trip, I was thinking, 'Why can't I be on a cruise ship instead?' ” said Ms. McNamara, now 17 and a senior in high school in Basking Ridge, N.J. But the experience was “worth more than any cruise or trip to Disneyland could give you,” she said.

The family took a similar trip to Africa three years ago, and Ms. McNamara started her own nonprofit, Share (Shannon's After-School Reading Exchange), shortly after to help educate African girls. She has since volunteered in Tanzania every summer, and has collected 23,000 books and shipped them to schools there. She has also begun raising money for scholarships.

Meet the teen philanthropists. Armed with new technology and an awareness of global issues, post-Millennials are engaging in social entrepreneurship in previously unimaginable ways. Though still materialistic, these teens and even preteens want to do something more significant than acquire the latest i-Pod Touch or Wii.

Looking for a purpose
Borrowing from trends in celebrity charity, kids are mobilizing their peers to address everything from infant mortality in developing nations to neighborhood concerns. They're donating presents to charity, and they're establishing their own nonprofits.

“The number of kids creating their own organizations and taking action for causes they care about is skyrocketing,” said Nancy Lublin, chief executive of, a New York-based nonprofit that helps young people to engage in philanthropy.

“Kids today just saw their parents go through a recession, get laid off and struggle,” Ms. Lublin said. “They look around and say: 'What's the point? I don't just want a second car in my driveway. I want a life of purpose.' ”

In the past year, 79% of girls in the United States have contributed food or clothing, 53% have given their own money, and 66% have asked family or friends to give or volunteer, according to research commissioned by the United Nations Foundation.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Statement of Mental Health America on the Tragedy in Arizona

Contact: Steve Vetzner, (703) 797-2588 or

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (January 10, 2011)—Mental Health America joins Americans in mourning the loss of those killed in Saturday’s tragic and senseless attack and expressing our wishes for the full recovery of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and fellow citizens who were injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives and everyone who is affected by these horrific events. And we join in applauding the brave actions of individuals who prevented greater harm.

It will likely take many days to understand the reasons and motivations behind this national tragedy. Many have pointed to mental health as an issue.

It must first be emphasized that people with mental health conditions are no more likely to be violent than the rest of the population. And we have science-based methods to successfully treat persons with even the most severe mental illnesses. A very small group of individuals with a specific type of mental health symptoms are at greater risk for violence if their symptoms are untreated.

At the same time, we must recognize that the nation’s mental health system is drastically under-funded and fails to provide Americans living with mental health conditions with the effective community-based mental health services they need. Sadly, in the current environment of strained state budgets, mental health services have been cut drastically just as demand for these critical services has risen dramatically.

It is also important that, as a community, we assist persons with signs and symptoms of mental illnesses to seek treatment. Although rare, when a person becomes so ill that he/she is a danger to themselves or others state laws provide a way to get them help even if they don’t believe that they need it. The best strategy, however, is to have an accessible system of care that is easy to use.

Science has not developed tools to predict reliably individuals at risk for violence. But we can reduce the small risk of violence in those with certain mental health conditions by investing in proven intensive, coordinated community-based mental health services and making certain that they can access these services.

We do not know if the mental health system failed in this situation or if there were missed opportunities or if effective treatment might have averted this tragedy.

We do hope that we can find answers and create solutions that prevent this from ever happening again.

Mental Health America ( is the country's leading nonprofit dedicated to helping all people live mentally healthier lives. With our century of service to America and our more than 300 affiliates nationwide, we represent a national movement that promotes mental wellness for the health and well-being of the nation— everyday and in times of crisis.