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Cash-strapped Tucson Urban League halts services

The Tucson Urban League, a nonprofit that has offered assistance with paying rent and utility bills, housing and financial workshops and job training, has closed its doors after nearly 50 years.

The group is "about a million in debt," board chair Damond Holt told TucsonSentinel.com.

The organization's board voted to suspend operations on Friday, and announced the move on Wednesday.

In a news release, the group cited "financial issues" and the COVID-19 epidemic, saying it has "drained available resources, and we are unable to meet our financial obligations."

"Regretfully, Tucson Urban League is unable to continue operations in its present form. The plan and goal once we are able to assume normal daily life is to bring community members together to develop a robust strategy," the group said in the release.

Those "financial struggles plus the COVID-19 pandemic and the stay at home order made it impossible to operate," Holt told TucsonSentinel.com. "It was the perfect storm."

The group, founded in 1971, has seen about a decade of declining revenues while running consistent deficits, nonprofit filings show.

It the most recent publicly available document, the Tucson Urban League reported $2.3 million in contributions and grants received, but spent $2.8 million.

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Back in 2011, the local group had revenues of $6.7 million, spending $7.3 million.

Then, the Tucson Urban League was pulling from total assets of $3.4 million to cover the shortfall. In 2016, the group reported total remaining assets of $650,000 — a figure that fell to just $82,000 the next year.

The only recent year that the group didn't run a significant deficit was 2016, when it was $80,000 in the black on a budget of about $4.1 million. Other years, it has run in the red, spending down assets at a rate of $70,000-$300,000 yearly.

The organization has seen a marked turnover in leadership, with its board of directors down to just four individuals: Holt, interim CEO Clarence Boykins, and board members Sam Brown and Molly Gilbert (a longtime board member and former chair of the group).

In 2017, the board had five members, including then-CEO Debbi Embry, who was paid $90,000 per year. The year before, the organization's board had 11 members. In 2015, the Tucson Urban League had 16 board members. In previous years, it had eight to 10 members responsible for the organization's strategy and financial health.

'The board and management of the Tucson Urban League wished to acknowledge our dedicated employees who continued to provide ongoing services during these last few tumultuous months. Our hope is when the organization is able to assume operations, we can rehire staff members," said the news release, signed by Holt.

The agency had been receiving support from local governments, mostly pass-through grant funds for social services. In 2018 and last year, Pima County granted about $749,000 to the group for workforce development, rent and utility assistance, and youth programs. The county was also leasing some office space near Downtown to the group for about $400 per month.

While the group has ceased operations, its leaders "will be meeting in the interim to do strategic planning to redevelop the Urban League," Holt said.

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