Solano County Gets Little Help Despite High Rates of Family Poverty

Prospective jurors line up outside the Solano County Hall of Justice in Fairfield, Feb. 22, 2016. (Craig Miller/KQED)

Solano County has the highest rate of family poverty in the Bay Area but has been at the low end of assistance from foundations, according to a study commissioned by the county.

Eleven percent of Bay Area families making less than $23,050 annually lived in Solano County in 2012. But during that same time period, the county received only $3 per person in grant dollars.

In contrast, San Francisco, which accounts for 9 percent of families in poverty in the region, received $1,199 in grant dollars per person.

Because foundation dollars can play an integral and supplementary role in funding government services, the shortage in donations puts an "undue burden" on nonprofits there, according to the Applied Survey Research study, titled "Foundation Giving in the Bay Area: Who Wins, and Who's Left Behind?"

"The thing that was most surprising was that foundation giving doesn't seem to be linked directly to level of community need," said Michele Harris, executive director of First 5 Solano, a county agency that funds children and family programs. "It just widens the gap between Solano and our wealthier neighbors."

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Foundation dollars come in through individual donations or philanthropic organizations. Jerry Huber, director of Solano County Health and Social Services, says this money has served as a reliable source of funding for nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity.

"When things are cut at the public level, agencies really depend on foundation giving to stay afloat," said Huber. "And if foundation giving becomes slimmer and slimmer ... these agencies struggle to survive."

Solano County currently has the fewest number of nonprofits per person, compared with other Bay Area counties, according to the study. And those few nonprofits in Solano draw less funding on average, compared with those in other Bay Area counties.

County officials and organizations are now working to figure out how to close what they call a "giving gap." Organizations such as First 5, along with local nonprofits and the county Board of Supervisors, are talking about making Solano County more appealing to potential foundation donors.

"We're going to be digging a little bit deeper and figure out what's happening," said Harris. "What we do know is we have to do something."

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