As cities and counties trim budgets, VIDA feels pinch – Rio Grande Guardian

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – As the devasting effects of COVID-19 continue to reverberate around the world, one local nonprofit is
feeling the impact.

The Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA), which assists individuals in completing their education, is facing funding cuts from several of its sponsors as a result of the pandemic. The group has been championed from the outset by Valley Interfaith.

“This is like the worst time for cuts to be made,” said Priscilla Alvarez, executive director of VIDA. “ …COVID[-19] has really affected not just our region here in the Valley, but the entire country, and I get that. But, because of that, there are so many individuals that have lost their jobs, that are wanting to go back and are seeing this time as a ‘sign’ – an opportunity to go back to school or go to school for the first time … to get the education and skills that they need in order to get a good-paying job that will help them sustain their family.”

Priscilla Alvarez

Recently, backers like the City of McAllen, the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation (GBIC) and Hidalgo County reduced their annual commitments. The City of McAllen, which previously provided $535,000 to the group, pledged $425,000 for next year’s participants. GBIC trimmed their $302,500 contribution to $200,000, and Hidalgo County decreased their $187,000 support to $100,000.

Alvarez says that this not only affects the number of residents they can serve, but their state funding as well. One of VIDA’s largest financial resources comes from the Texas Innovative Adult Career Education (ACE) Grant Program, which provides matching dollars between regional organizations. In February, the group received $625,000 from the ACE Grant, but Alvarez now worries about what will happen after it expires at the end of this fiscal year. For VIDA, less local money means less state money, further exacerbating their financial woes.

“At a time when so many people are looking for work, are looking to go back to school to get a good-paying job, it hurts quite a bit,” said Alvarez.

As it stands, the nonprofit estimates that they will only be able to serve a total of about 440 enrollees in 2021, down from their average of 500. As VIDA’s model expends funds directly into the communities from where they are received, the pool of participants from cities and counties that have cut their funding will also be reduced. Alvarez emphasized that while she understands the budgetary constraints during these challenging times, she believes this is the exact moment to invest in the local population.

“Everybody talks about the importance of human capital right now,” said Alvarez. “Well, what that is is investing in your community, in your residents … I know that money is tight everywhere, but for us, it’s important that we be recognized as an investment in human capital with a return on that investment.”

Alvarez points to VIDA’s 2020 Economic Impact Study prepared by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and released last month. In it, researchers found that for every dollar invested in the program, the return is $14.74. Additionally, program graduates, many of whom were unemployed and on public assistance, earned an average starting salary of $41,808 after completing their certification or degree.

Because of its proven success in bolstering its participants’ upward mobility, VIDA’s model has been recognized previously on the national stage. Now, in its twenty-fifth year of operation, Alvarez hopes to continue that legacy.

“With unemployment as high as it is here in the Valley, that’s not the time to cut back on investing in human capital,” said Alvarez. “When sales tax revenues go down, that’s not the time to cut back on a model like ours that gets people good-paying jobs with benefits that helps them earn a family-sustaining wage. That’s the time to say ‘we need to invest more money in VIDA.’

She continued, “We’re always grateful to the communities that serve us, that invest in our model. You know, if we get cut, we got cut. We’re not happy with it. We hate that we’re going to have to turn students away, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not grateful for the investment that they did make. That’s still important, and that needs to be the focus. And, hopefully, the cities that have cut our funding are able to come back to the table.”

For more information on VIDA, visit their website here.

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