ITHACA, N.Y. –– After months of silence from the state and the firing of almost their entire staff as a result, the local non-profit Women’s Opportunity Center has received thousands of dollars in back funding –– enough to hold the organization over while they pursue alternative resources.

The WOC, an organization that has been in operation for more than four decades offering free programs and services to women who are either former or displaced homemakers, or in some other type of social/financial need.

Following an investigation by the Ithaca Times into why New York State Department of Labor funding had been delayed without an end in sight, representatives reached out to WOC Executive Director Ryan Harriott to say the organization would receive the funding it was due for April through July –– the months state funding was paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We received our last payment Feb. 20, 2020, which left us without payment from March until the end of July, because that’s when the contract ran,” Harriott said. 

In total, the WOC received $80,160 from the NYSDOL for the remainder of their 2019-2020 contract. Annually, the state awards the WOC around $250,000.

After receiving their funding, Harriott said she investigated renewing the WOC’s contract for the 2020-2021 year, but has not had luck –– forcing the organization to seek alternative funding sources.

“No word if we can have a new contract if there is a new contract for the displaced homemaker program, she said. “I asked our contractor that question in my email. No response.”

Because of the $80K the WOC now has, Harriott said she has been able to hire back a handful of essential employees that will assist her in the delivery of organization programming while she plans for the future and considers alternative grants and funding sources to keep the center going into the future.

“I’m thinking about the core services that we provide to our women and the demographics and there’s many different ways that we could move forward with continuing our service including federal funding and other state funding,” Harriott said. 

The NYSDOL funding given to the WOC annually has traditionally come through the NYS Displaced Homemaker Program grant, a grant program benefiting those that previously provided unpaid services to their family (for example, a stay-at-home mom or dad), people currently unemployed or underemployed and people with loans to find a job and begin a career.

Harriott said that she is looking at the lapse on this funding optimistically, as it will open up the types of services the WOC is able to provide local women.

“I see this as a moment for us to really relook, regrow, rethink about what we do, who we can continue to help and serve in the communities that we serve,” she said. “We should not be restricted from serving the women that we should be working with as well because we have to follow qualifications from the Department of Labor’s displaced homemaker grant –– if they’re not defined as a displaced homemaker, we can’t serve them.”

She continued, “so I’m actually really excited about it. I think it will be good.”

Despite the optimism, the future is still uncertain as the pandemic continues on and government funding for non-profits is no longer a guarantee.

To make up for lost revenue the WOC is continuing to apply for various relief funds and alternative grants, but are also looking to the community for support and accepting donations online or by mail to 315 N. Tioga St. Ithaca, NY.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com