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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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State halts payments to nonprofits

Moss Free Clinic in Fredericksburg.

Local nonprofits, including the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank and the Lloyd Moss Free Clinic, have been affected by the state’s decision to halt grants to charitable organizations.

Direct payments from the state—the type that Moss and other groups have received for years—were stopped after  Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli declared them unconstitutional.

Officials are scrambling to come up with a new way of funding the nonprofits, including contracts which would reimburse them for services performed.

“They’re holding funds at the state level until they resolve all this,” Karen Dulaney, executive director of the Moss Clinic, said yesterday.

The Fredericksburg clinic is budgeted to receive nearly $100,000 from the state this year, or about 6 percent of its total budget.

“I’m hoping it doesn’t come to this, but were we to be cut this amount, it would force us restrict our services,” Dulaney said.

Moss Clinic and Fredericksburg Counseling Services are among 60 free clinics in Virginia that receive state funding. The counseling service expected to receive $5,000 this year.

The money is funneled through their nonprofit membership organization, the Virginia Association of Free Clinics. The association expected to receive $3.2 million from the state this year, said Lou Markwith, executive director.

The association did not receive its monthly appropriation from the state in March or April, Markwith said. When the association sent quarterly payments to member clinics last month, it did not include their money for March.

“They have felt it,” Markwith said.

The Fredericksburg Area Food Bank could lose state funding this year.

The Fredericksburg Area Food Bank  received $147,000 worth of food from the state last year through the Federation of Virginia Food Banks. It expected another shipment later this year, worth about $71,000, but now that shipment is in doubt, said Dayle Reschick, resource development director.

“We will try to source the food elsewhere,” Reschick said.

The problem began Jan. 28, when Cuccinelli wrote an advisory opinion that said that it was unconstitutional for the General Assembly to make appropriations to charitable organizations unless the organizations are owned or controlled by the state. The payments are long- standing and “serve a noble purpose,” he said, but they’re unconstitutional.

Because of the opinion, the payments have been halted while the state reviews each organization.

Markwith said he has met with officials from the state Health Department to write contracts which would reimburse the clinics for patients treated and prescriptions filled. Markwith said he is optimistic that the problem will be resolved, but when clinic directors ask him when funding will resume, he tells them, “I don’t know.”

Update: Cuccinelli may be feeling some political heat because of  his opinion. At 2:40 p.m. today, Brian Gottstein, director of communication for the Office of the Attorney General, put out a statement that said in part:

“The attorney general’s official opinion merely stated what the law already is; it did not make new law.  Official opinions are not the attorney general’s personal opinions.  They are his legal analysis of what current law is, based on the law as written and any applicable court decisions.  He does not make the law or change the law. 

“For those legislators who are disparaging the attorney general’s office for its plain reading of the state constitution, they should know they are the only ones who can change laws they don’t like.  That power does not rest with this office.”

(In the interest of full disclosure, I volunteer at Moss Clinic as a medical screener. The Cuccinelli opinion can be found here. Web sites for the Moss Clinic, Fredericksburg Counseling Services and Fredericksburg Area Food Bank are here, here and here.)