Monthly Archives: December 2017

Bad news in new tax bill for nonprofits that depend on small- to medium-sized donations

I recently wrote about Bad and good news for FQHCs in the latest Republican tax bill, and last week, the Republican tax bill passed under its official title, “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA). Like it or not, the TCJA is now law and I’m continuing to look at its implications for nonprofits and grant seeking. As reported by the Washington Post, “Charities fear tax bill could turn philanthropy into a pursuit only for the rich.”

Why? The combination of doubling the standard deduction and limiting the deductibility state/local taxes and mortgage interest will likely significantly reduce charitable donations by middle and upper middle income Americans. Those people would need very high deductions to bother itemizing, so many won’t. That’s very bad news for smaller to mid-size nonprofits that depend on donations.

Unlike businesses, which can enter new markets and develop new products, nonprofits have relatively few revenue possibilities (the main ones they do have are listed at the link). In addition to grants and fee-for-service contracts (e.g., foster care, substance abuse treatment, homeless shelter beds, etc.), these are limited to membership dues (for member organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs, animal rescues, etc.), fundraisers, and donations. The latter three will be impacted by the TCJA.

While every nonprofit executive director dreams of landing a donor “whale,” mega-donors are not only rare but tend to give to larger and well-connected nonprofits (the rarely acknowledged “swamp” of philanthropy, if you will). The booming stock market and lowered corporate tax rate will likely to produce more whales, but many of these will donate to corporate or family foundations—not garden variety human services nonprofits toiling away in relative obscurity. We’ve had many conversations with executive directors whose nonprofits are doing good work but find it hard to translate “good work” into “increased donations.”

Nonprofit executive directors will have to make a choice that will become more acute in 2018: cast off in the whale boat to search for Moby-Dick or chase schools of small donation fish. The former strategy is usually pointless and the later is time consuming work that will become harder as many Americans realize that there won’t be a tax deduction reward because they won’t itemize.

The silver lining is that foundation portfolios are being engorged by the historically high bull market. They’ll also receive huge donations from corporations and the upper-income people, who will get much of the direct benefits from the TCJA. No matter what, foundations must distribute 5% of their assets every year, and we offer foundation appeals in part with that in mind to clients.

Also, federal spending on discretionary grant programs continues to rise and most states should see increased tax revenue, some of which will be allocated to grant programs. As budgetary chaos subsides, federal agencies will resume normal RFP patterns.

Language update for grant writers: the CDC has a new list of seven forbidden words/terms

The Washington Post reports that “CDC gets list of forbidden words” from its political masters. We find it hard to judge how serious the list is, because knowledge of the ban itself is only by way of “an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing”—not exactly an authoritative source for final policy. Still, the article has been making the rounds and the supposedly forbidden terms are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”* As grant writers, we’re always sensitive to the vagaries of evolving language and ideas, as you can see from our 2014 post “Cultural Sensitivity, Cultural Insensitivity, and the ‘Big Bootie’ Problem in Grant Writing.”

(EDIT: It appears that “After firestorm, CDC director says terms like ‘science-based’ are not banned.” Alternately, it’s also possible that the word ban was being discussed, but the reaction to the leak caused the CDC to can it.)

While most PC language emerges from the political left, this CDC directive comes from the Trump administration. There’s a bit of humor in this, as right-wing commentators often cite the PC “language police,” raising the dire specter of Orwell’s 1984 and his 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language.” It seems the wingtip is now on the other political foot.

Still, the CDC banned words are standard proposalese that we frequently use in CDC, HRSA, and many other proposals. Some combination of these words are also found in virtually every RFP. “Evidence-based practice” (EBP) is so ubiquitous as to be cliché, even though RFPs rarely define what is supposed to constitute a given EBP. I find this true: “When I see the words used by others, my immediate reaction is to think someone is deploying it selectively, without complete self-awareness, or as a bullying tactic, in lieu of an actual argument, or as a way of denying how much their own argument depends on values rather than science.” People who understand EBPs just cite the evidence and let the evidence speak for itself; people who don’t use the term EBPs as a conceptual fix-all.

Despite the putative ban, grant writers should continue to use these buzzwords, because proposal reviewers—both federal program officers and peer reviewers—expect to read them. Reading them is a good substitute for thinking about what they mean. In addition, there’s often a disconnect between the political appointees (e.g., Deputy Under Assistant Secretary for Obscure Grant Programs), who nominally run federal agencies, and the career civil servants or lifers who actually operate the agencies. Lifers often refer to the political appointees as “the summer help,” since they come and go with new administrations—or more frequently. Peer reviewers are practitioners, who are likely to be PC in the extreme and unlikely to attend to most administration instructions. As grant writers, our audience is composed of reviewers, not the summer help, so that’s who we’ll continue to write to.

For those of us of a certain age, it’s also ironic that the CDC picked seven words to ban, instead of six or eight, given comedian George Carlin’s 1972 monologue “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television.”


* Mother Jones has a parody of this kerfuffle with seven replacements for the banned words: vulnerable=snowflake, entitlement=welfare, diversity=anti-white, transgender=deviant, fetus=unborn child, evidence-based=elitist, and science-based=atheist.

Links: Vocational education, housing challenges, iGen and Millenials, healthcare and faxes machines, and more!

* “Blue-collar wages are surging. Can it last?” As I argue in “Rare good political news: Boosting apprenticeships,” it’s pretty obvious to anyone who’s teaching college in non-elite schools that way too many students are getting college degrees that don’t mean much.

* “Kimbal Musk wants to feed America, Silicon-Valley style.” Great! Sign me up. Also, Memphis Meats Bets That Lab-Grown Meat Can Solve the Global Food Crisis.

* “Why can’t we cure the common cold?” Turns out that we likely can but choose not to for economic, legal, and regulatory reasons, which is terrible.

* “Rising Rents Are Pushing More Tenants Past the Breaking Point.” Maybe this will get more voters interested in the seemingly boring issue of zoning.

* “The White-Minstrel Show,” which went all over the Internet when it was published but I’m just now getting to it.

* “‘Victimhood narrative’ taught in schools fuels anxiety in young women.” See also Jean Twenge’s book iGen.

* “The world in 2076: The population bomb has imploded.” Anyone worried about overpopulation is fighting the last war and ought to read Bryan Caplan’s Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.

* “Five reasons why Amsterdam works so well for bikes.” Note that any American city could copy all five factors.

* “The fax of life: It’s 2017. American medicine still runs on fax machines because doctors and administrators think that making medical records easier to transfer will make patients change providers more easily.” In other words, this is yet another patient-unfriendly, anti-competitive part of the healthcare landscape.

* “When the Academy Retreats: Thought-policing and value-signaling are pre-empting free and open discussion on college campuses.” It’s pretty depressing that we’re still fighting for free speech in 2017.

* “Insurers make billions off Medicaid in California during Obamacare expansion.”

* Denver Radically Expanded Its Transit. So Why Are More People Driving Cars?

* “Meet the startups fighting Bay Area’s soaring housing costs.” These efforts are useful but pretty marginal; the basic problem remains: it’s illegal to build the housing that people want to live in.

* “Seven megatrends that could beat global warming: ‘There is reason for hope.'”

* “Startup ‘Plenty’ wants to build a giant indoor farm next to every major city.”

* In October I visited Nashville and wrote, “Nashville, seen and unseen.” Now Citylab asks, “Can Nashville Pull Off a $5.2 Billion Transit Makeover?

* Bryan Caplan’s next book, The Case Against Education, is available for pre-order here. I’ve been looking forward to it for years.

* “‘Homes for human beings’: Millennial-driven anti-NIMBY movement is winning with a simple message.” Good.

* “Outbreak: Our Next Global Pandemic.” Be scared.

* “Elon Musk: The Architect of Tomorrow.” Not the usual.

* “E-bikes: time to saddle up with low-cost energy and no sweat?” An underrated story.

* “Solidia has a way to make cement that absorbs greenhouse gases instead of emitting them.” Very cool if true.

Bad and good news for FQHCs in the latest Republican tax bill

The Senate passed their version of the Republican tax bill early Friday morning, setting the stage for a conference committee with the House to reconcile their previously passed bill this week. A tax “reform” bill only comes along about once in a generation, making this important. We don’t post partisan political material here, so I’m not talking about the politics of the Republicans finally notching a significant legislative win; rather, we’re looking at the bill’s impact on the real world of FQHCs and Medicaid.

The Senate version of the bill repeals the individual mandate to buy health insurance. Most press analyses over the weekend indicate that the House will likely go along. As reported by Washington Post, this turns Obamacare Marketplaces from mandatory to voluntary:

The Congressional Budget Office, the official nonpartisan estimator, has predicted that this change would cause health insurance premiums to rise by about 10 percent a year and prompt 4 million people to drop insurance by 2019 and 13 million to drop it by 2027.

There are plenty of other estimates of what repealing the mandate will do, but over time it will almost certainly destabilize the Exchanges/Marketplaces and individual insurance landscape. The impact on FQHCs is likely to both bad and good (maybe that’s true of most complex legislation, which are usually drafted by “K Street lobbyists”).

First, the bad news: One impact of Obamacare has been a dramatic increase in the number people enrolled in Medicaid, because of the expansion of Medicaid eligibility in most states, as well as HRSA funding for an army of FQHC-employed “navigators” to enroll patients in Medicaid. FQCHs were originally intended to serve uninsured and underinsured people, not Medicaid enrollees. Still, most FQHCs have become the de facto Medicaid providers in their service areas, since many FQHC service areas have few primary care and specialty care providers and fewer still that will accept new Medicaid patients. Keep in mind that Medicaid is insurance, not health care; like all health insurance, it is only as good as the patient’s ability to find a provider who accepts Medicaid.

Without going to mind-numbing detail, Medicaid is essentially a joint federal/state-funded, fee-for-service program that reimburses providers for service encounters. As more Americans with Medicaid seek care from FQHCs, the FQHCs are faced with same dilemma confronting all providers—Medicaid payments may not and often do not fully cover the cost of providing certain encounters. Like all businesses and nonprofits, FQHCs have to “make money” to keep the lights on. FQHCs have several advantages over other nonprofit and for-profit providers, including enhanced Medicaid (and Medicare) reimbursements.

Still, an FQHC has to run a tight ship not to go into a Medicaid reimbursement death spiral. The more Medicaid patients an FQHC has, the larger this challenge becomes, and the tax bill will likely result in FQHC’s getting a flood of new Medicaid patients, as well as uninsured patients bailing from Marketplace plans, when the mandate ends. FQHCs are “providers of last resort” and in theory can’t refuse care, regardless of a patient’s lack of insurance or ability to pay. All FQHCs have sliding fee scales for this purpose, but, once again, they have to be well-managed to cover the cost of sliding fee scale-payers, including no-payers.

Now for the good news: In addition to reimbursements from Medicaid and other third-payers, FQHCs also receive annual Section 330 grants. As we’ve written about before, Section 330 grants account for about 18% of FQHC revenue and Section 330 grants don’t depend on the number of Medicaid or self-pay/no-pay patients served. This built-in cushion will help FQHC weather the consequences of the Republican tax bill.

Over time, lobbyists for the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), the FQHC trade group, and their affiliated Primary Care Associations in each state, for example the California Primary Care Association (CPCA), will go to work. This will likely result in larger Section 330 grants, specialized grants to cover the impact of the tax bill, increased New Access Points (NAP) grant competitions, or a combination of all three. Although mostly forgotten in the media, FQHCs received a huge increase in funding under the 2009 Stimulus Bill and ACA (Obamacare) legislation. I don’t see any reason why this won’t repeat itself in 2018, as the impact of the tax bill on insurance, health care access, and FQHCs becomes clear.

Some version of Obamacare is likely here to stay and FQHCs will be the primary mechanism for providing care to Medicaid and uninsured people for the foreseeable future.

In other healthcare news, CVS (the drug store) plans to buy Aetna (the insurance company). This is a seemingly unusual pairing, and at first glance I don’t know what to make of it, save to think that we’re seeing unusual times and strange alliances in the healthcare industry.