Don Keelan: The coming tsunami of nonprofit organizations

This commentary is by Don Keelan, a retired certified public accountant and a resident of Arlington.

Bernie Sanders, Vermont U.S. senator and America’s leading socialist, has his 50-year goal coming to fruition in Washington, D.C. To celebrate his greatest achievement, he is barnstorming the country, promoting the merits of what is euphemistically referred to as the $3.5 trillion Budget Reconciliation Bill.

The bill, in outline form, was adopted by the House of Representatives in August on a 220-212 vote and still needs passage by the U.S. Senate. In his role as chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Sanders is ecstatic and letting us all know. He needs only 50 votes in the Senate to finalize his five-decade odyssey of converting America to socialism. 

The BRB, if adopted — and it appears that it might — will provide hundreds of billions of dollars to such programs as universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds; child care for working families; tuition-free community college; funding for historically black colleges and universities; and an expansion of the Pell Grant for higher education. According to NPR’s Aug. 9 publication, $726 billion will be allocated to such programs. 

NPR states that the bill will include another $107 billion to assist “lawful permanent status for qualified immigrants.” I thought the aforementioned $833 billion was plenty, but it wasn’t. 

Another $332 billion will be designated for housing and equity; $198 billion for clean energy development; and $135 billion to address drought concerns, forest fires, and reduce carbon emissions. If you are keeping score, that adds up to approximately 1,498 trillion dollars with an additional two trillion for other programs.

How much of the $3.5 trillion will come to Vermont? Billions, and herein lies the problem. Vermont state government agencies are not capable of overseeing the spending of such sums. Thus, there is a need for a major expansion of existing Vermont nonprofit organizations and the creation of scores more. 

A brief diversion: In the early 1930s, the number of nonprofit organizations in the U.S. was insignificant. Then, two events took place: The New Deal and World War II changed the paradigm forever. Jump forward 25 years to the mid-1960s, when there were about 600,000 registered nonprofits. Many were born out of what was known as the “Great Society.” Today, the number of nonprofits is estimated somewhere between 1.5 and 1.7 million. 

In Vermont, the list of nonprofit organizations registered with the Secretary of State’s Office is about 6,000, not all of which are active or substantial by any means. But what is substantial is the considerable amount of state government work delegated to the state’s nonprofit corporations. 

The nearly three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar State Housing Finance Agency is a nonprofit located in Burlington and run by trustees. Ditto for the state’s mental health delivery system, managed by 14 regional mental health nonprofits. Bennington County’s $20 million agency is referred to as United Counseling Services, and it too has a board of trustees. 

When Green Mountain Power charges you a percent each month for energy efficiency, it does not send the funds to the state but to Efficiency Vermont, a Burlington nonprofit.

Add the recent growth of several new nonprofit cottage industries. Experts in diversity, inclusion and equity being one, and policing review another. At least a dozen Vermont communities currently have their policing policies reviewed by nonprofit organizations. 

And don’t forget there is a new crop of nonprofits that hold themselves as experts in climate change issues and are ready to step forward to advise municipalities and businesses.  

If this is today’s landscape, where so much of state government operations are being delegated to nonprofits, imagine what will occur when the BRB funds roll into Vermont. 

What status will the Vermont voter have when state spending is not done by state agencies, but by a detached nonprofit organization? 

Forget a career in business, the trades, or the professions; the nonprofits are the future. Just follow the money.  


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