Human service advocates have dramatically ramped up their lobbying efforts on Beacon Hill in recent years as the state plunged into a recession and lawmakers scrambled for areas to slash spending.
The amount of lobbying dollars spent by advocates trying to persuade lawmakers to spare programs from additional cuts has climbed steadily from about $1.3 million in 2005 to more than $3 million in 2009, according to an Associated Press review of state lobbying records.
In 2010, the total topped more than $4.9 million, in part because of changes in the state’s lobbying law that tightened reporting requirements.
Gone are the days when advocates could just appeal to lawmakers’ hearts. Now they say they have to come to the Statehouse armed with hard data about the success of their programs.
“You can no longer go and just say it’s the right thing to do. You have to make your case statistically and put a human face on it,” said Brian Condron, director of advocacy for The Home for Little Wanderers.
“It takes a lot more research and work,” he added.
In 2005, the private, nonprofit child and family service agency spent $41,222 on lobbying. By 2009, that had more than doubled to $95,850. In 2010, the agency spent $113,954 on lobbying.
The spike in lobbying isn’t limited just to human service groups.
Gambling and casino interests doubled the amount spent on lobbying from $1.5 million in 2008 to more than $3 million last year. In total, businesses, unions and other groups spent more than $115 million on political lobbying in 2010, up from $96 million in 2009, according to the secretary of state’s office.
But for human service organizations that rely on state dollars, the challenge to maintain that support has been even more critical.
In 2009, the YMCA of Greater Boston, spent $80,000 lobbying state lawmakers. YMCA spokeswoman Kelly Rice said it’s important to maintain strong relations on Beacon Hill in good times and bad.
“You have a presence at all times,” Rice said. “As resources are tightened you want to make sure your lawmakers at the local, state and federal level understand what we do, our role in the community.”
For the YMCA of Greater Boston, that includes reminding legislators about the 3,000 day care slots the agency provides for children of low-income families.
“It is important for us to show exactly what kind of impact we have in the community, and to have measurable outcomes,” she said.
Despite their best lobbying efforts, some groups say they are struggling to cope with funding cuts.
Elaine DeRosa of the Massachusetts Family Planning Association, a network of nonprofit family planning agencies, said they’ve lost about $1 million in funding during the past few years as a result of budget cuts.
DeRosa said the group hasn’t been able to significantly increase lobbying.
“We don’t have the money,” she said.
Top Massachusetts lawmakers say the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 isn’t much brighter. Although revenue has begun to tick up, the state is still looking at up to a $1.5 billion spending gap on top of a dwindling rainy day fund and the end of federal stimulus dollars.
Senate President Therese Murray said everything is still on the table when it comes to budget cuts and she’s urging human services organizations to team up and work together when they can.
“The message that I’m giving to everyone is that they need to coordinate, collaborate and try to come together if they’re providing the same types of services,” said Murray, D-Plymouth. “We have less to work with than we’ve had in past years so it’s going to be a little bit more difficult.”
House Speaker Robert DeLeo echoed the fiscal warning, but added that he’ll do his best to find money for those who serve the state’s neediest citizens.
“Many of these human services organizations have always been some of my priorities because I think everyone understands how people are hurt as a result of these cuts,” said DeLeo, D-Winthrop.
“We’ll be taking a close look and do the best we can with the resources that we have,” he added.
Gov. Deval Patrick has set certain human service priorities, particularly when it comes to the goal of trying to end homelessness in Massachusetts.
An administration spokeswoman said Patrick has tried to maintain homeless funding over the past three years, and increase it specifically for homeless families trying to find permanent housing.
Advocates say all the lobbying isn’t in vain.
Condron from The Home for Little Wanderers said last year the organization was able to help persuade lawmakers to approve a bill that brought state law into compliance with federal rules for young adults who remain in the state foster care system until they were 21.
Condron said the pitch was made easier since the new law allows the state to collect matching federal funds.
“Most of the human service lobbying is just to make sure that human services are funded enough so that they can continue to be delivered,” Condron said. “I think we’ve made a pretty good case under this administration to hold some services harmless.”
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