Friday, March 20, 2020
Dear Grantees and Stakeholders,
Re: Annual Funding Guideline
At this time of year, the Alberta Law Foundation usually reviews its current and projected financial position with a view to providing guidance to new and returning grant applicants about the funds available for grants in the coming year.
The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Today, as we all find ourselves in an unprecedented situation dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuing fallout, the Foundation’s focus is on the immediate impact. We understand our grantees have been deeply affected by these developments and will continue to face disruption to their operations and have concerns about the well-being of staff, volunteers and clients as events unfold over the coming weeks and months.
We want to assure you that grants approved to date will be funded as anticipated, with the next grant instalment payment to be made in early April 2020.
We understand that the first priority for grantees is to ensure the safety and security of their staff, families, volunteers and clients. Restricted access to program facilities and other social distancing requirements will obviously impact the mode and extent of service delivery to clients and many Albertans will be experiencing even greater needs in these stressful times. We know that as service providers, you care deeply about the individuals you serve and that where possible, you will explore alternative methods of delivering services to clients as best you can. We appreciate your sharing with us your ideas and plans, successes and challenges as the community response to COVID-19 continues.
The Foundation’s recent work with stakeholders has emphasized and facilitated the coordination of services and collaboration of legal service providers. Coordination and collaboration will be even more essential over the coming months as each provider adjusts its regular service modes. We encourage grantees and stakeholders to continue communicating with each other and with the Foundation’s staff to understand what each is doing and to share ideas of how to adapt services in the new environment.
Over the last two years, our staff have been actively working with grantees and other stakeholders to identify and prioritize legal needs and undertake programs and initiatives to address them. This work will not stop; however, the priority of needs may look different over the coming months. As stakeholders and service providers, your experience and observations of the level and kinds of needs arising out of the current environment are important to our understanding of the evolving and ultimate impacts of the COVID-19 response on individuals, families and the justice sector.
The Foundation’s financial position has been very strong over recent years. This has enabled the Foundation to commit increased funding to grantees and Legal Aid Alberta.
It is important to appreciate that the Foundation’s revenue from interest on lawyers’ pooled trust accounts (IOLTA) is dependent on two key factors: the balance in the trust accounts, which is influenced by general economic factors, and the prime rate of interest. Relatively high interest rates over the last two years have tempered the impact of the struggling Alberta economy on the Foundation’s IOLTA revenue.
The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and oil supply shock, and the associated monetary response, have changed our financial position for the foreseeable future. Interest rates have been reduced drastically and abruptly in recent weeks, with further reductions anticipated. Economic activity is expected to slow markedly. The Foundation’s revenue expectation in the next year or two is therefore significantly lower than in recent years, and we have adjusted our budget and forecasts accordingly.
Even while focusing on immediate needs and circumstances, the Foundation takes a long-term approach to its decisions. The Foundation still maintains a grant stabilization fund designed to support continuing grantee programs through periods of low IOLTA revenue. As we anticipate having to draw on reserves in the coming years, we are monitoring investments and working with our investment manager to minimize the impact of market devaluations and volatility on the reserve. As we draw on reserves to stabilize funding, we will have to be cautious about increasing grant levels over the foreseeable future.
Foundation Work Continues
The Foundation’s Board of Directors plans to continue its work and scheduled meetings, including reviewing and approving grants, with the necessary adaptations. We were able to move our regular March Board meeting to a virtual platform last week and are prepared to continue with virtual meetings as long as may be necessary.
The Foundation has made no decisions regarding the timing of further work in the Bridging the Gaps initiative originally scheduled for this spring. Staff will be communicating with you over the coming weeks to continue the promising progress made on this initiative.
For the time being, the Foundation is continuing to operate as usual, with most staff working remotely. All staff can be reached by email and we encourage you to contact your Grants Coordinator or the Executive Director to discuss concerns you may have regarding your ALF-funded program or project.
The work of the Foundation’s grantees positively impacts the lives of thousands of vulnerable Albertans each year. We appreciate the efforts of the staff, volunteers and boards of your organizations as everyone navigates through the challenges facing us in the upcoming weeks and months, and we hope for the continued good health and well-being of all our grantees and stakeholders.
Stephanie L. Dobson