Frederick County homeowners will soon see a $100 tax rebate check in the mail, and instead of pocketing it, at least one Frederick County woman is hoping that some will pass at least part of that money on to area nonprofit organizations.
Kari Kelly of Frederick is the creator of The Benjamin Project, which aims to encourage residents to pass some or all of their $100 tax rebate on to a program in need and replace some of the funding lost by cuts in the county budget.
The county will mail out 67,000 $100 rebate checks totaling $6.7 million on funds to taxpayers this month.
The current Frederick County Board of Commissioners has committed to eliminating nonprofit funding by 2014 and has cut it by 25 percent each year.
Funding for nonprofits dropped from $502,841 in 2011 to $344,131 in 2012. The fiscal 2013 budget was further reduced by about 23 percent to $264,000.
Frederick County is one of three counties in the state that use its community foundation’s “needs assesment tool” as a criteria for funding, the other two jurisdictions being Howard and Prince George’s counties, according to a news release Tuesday from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) office.
“There’s not a lot of fat to cut in most programs, and grants received might not be feasible without a local match,” Kelly said. “... Hopefully, if people can’t send the whole $100, they can send a portion. So many nonprofits run on a shoestring budget.”
Kelly’s project isn’t directly collecting money. Instead, she’s hoping to foster discussion about some of Frederick’s numerous charities on the group’s Facebook page — The Benjamin Project, Frederick MD, which has about 50 supporters so far — and encourage others to share their windfall with groups in need of help.
“We thought that the $100 check was a perfectly good opportunity [to show support],” she said. “We’re not supporting any particular organizations. That’s why we have the [Facebook] page. Hopefully people will start bringing those organizations to light and garner some support as well.”
“It’s not a small amount of money,” she said. “... But when you get that $100 you’re not expecting, it’s nice to put it toward helping someone. Sometimes people think they’re one person and can’t do much. Hopefully, the Benjamin Project can give them some more motivation to pass along the check.”
Elizabeth Cromwell, one of the project’s supporters, said she and Kelly discussed ways to help the county’s nonprofit groups.
“I thought that would be a good idea to spark a reminder to the public that there are some really great causes that could use some help,” she said.
Cromwell said she plans to use her rebate check to support Frederick County Public Libraries, where she works, as well as the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs and Hope Alive.
“I think asking churches and religious groups to pick up the slack for social services and emergency human needs is challenging in a great economy,” she said. “And I think they’ve gone so far above and beyond already that I think it’s unrealistic to hope they can continue to carry on these kinds of services without more help from all of us.”
The Rev. Brian Scott, executive director of the Religious Coalition, said the organization is trying to make up a $130,000 shortfall in funding — $30,000 of which is from the latest round of county budget cuts — which could pay for prescription assistance for 238 people for two months, he said.
The remaining $100,000 is from cuts in the county’s Department of Social Services, that happened last year and were never restored, he said.
“We’re providing essential human services people can’t go without,” he said. “It’s a matter of life or death. ... We encourage people throughout the year to donate to their neighbor in need.”
Scott praised the efforts of groups like the Benjamin Project for trying to help fill those gaps, and said the coalition has been reaching out to churches and sending a direct mail to encourage donations.
“We’d like to encourage people in the month of September to help their neighbor in need, because the need has never been greater,” he said. “We see about 300 persons per month.”
Staff Writer Katherine Heerbrandt contributed to this story.