New Report Identifies Strengths, Challenges in Human Services Sector

New Report Identifies Strengths, Challenges in Human Services Sector

Services delivered by community-based organizations (CBOs) affect the lives of one in five Americans and account for nearly $200 billion in economic activity, but the recipients of those services and society as a whole face significant risks if CBOs are not adequately funded, a new report from the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and the American Public Human Services Association finds.

A year in the making, the report, A National Imperative: Joining Forces to Strengthen Human Services in America, examines CBOs, their economic and social impact, and the need to strengthen and preserve their role in promoting health and well-being and enabling all Americans to contribute fully to their communities and the national economy. The report also offers a call to action to government and the private sector to address the challenges facing CBOs, which play a vital role in the human services environment.

According to the report, CBOs play a critical role in improving health outcomes, reducing healthcare costs, and addressing the social determinants of health. This includes ensuring that children are safe and live in supporting neighborhoods, can succeed in school, and have strong and economically secure families; helping older adults maintain a good quality of life and stay connected to their communities; equipping people with disabilities with tools and resources so they can live their lives fully; building quality affordable housing; and providing crucial mental health and substance abuse services. CBOs also have significant impact on local and state economies and the national economy through their spending on wages, rent, fuel, and the other inputs necessary to maintain their operations and deliver services.

At the same time, the report found that CBOs face a number of challenges, including persistent operating deficits, unfavorable contract terms that reimburse them less than the full cost of the services they provide, inadequate or nonexistent financial reserves, and problems such as lack of access to capital for investment in technology.

The report identifies five strategies designed to put CBOs on the path to financial stability while improving population health and well-being. These include an increased focus on a common set of widely used outcomes; building their capacity for innovation through better data sharing and analysis, technological strategies, and knowledge and leadership exchange; identifying deeper strategic partnerships such as mergers, affiliations, and networks; developing robust finance and financial risk management capabilities, including scenario planning, recovery and program-continuity planning, benchmarking and self-rating, reporting, and disclosure; and engaging with regulators at all levels to reform CBO regulation, particularly in the area of litigation risk, which has become a serious issue for many organizations.

"America's community-based organizations are essential to our society because they provide the foundational supports that enable individuals and families to do well in life, including provision of health and mental health services, support for safe and enriching environments for learning and development, access to well-paying jobs, and opportunities to stay active and connected to our community as we age," said Susan Dreyfus, president and CEO of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities. "Despite our sector's potential to transform some of society's most vexing challenges and have an impact on a wide range of systems including health care, education, and the judiciary system, there are significant constraints faced by CBOs. Solving these issues will require the united efforts of CBOs, policy makers, and our public-sector peers to change business practices, including investments in technology and employees, adoption of risk management procedures, changes to outdated approaches to procurement and contracting, creation of actuarial soundness to rates, and modernizing of our regulatory environment."