Decertified United Way St. Croix Still Getting Contributions; Status Murky

United Way of St. Croix is no longer funding any of its former member agencies, but it has been accepting donations, and the island’s largest employer, the local government, is still turning over contributions made by government workers through payroll deductions.

“Last year was the last time we gave money to the non-profits,” said Ana Davila, longtime executive director of United Way St. Croix. She later clarified that to say 2013 was the last year that the organization funded any local charities.

Historically, United Way’s role has been to act as an umbrella organization, collecting donations and then distributing them to local non profits for which it maintains targeted oversight.

Davila said the St. Croix group has “changed our model” of operations. “We’re not just going to be giving money to non-profits.”

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She mentioned just one program that the group now sponsors directly, and that is health screenings. She said that program relies on medical volunteers from Puerto Rico.

UW St. Croix closed its office Jan. 31, 2014, as a cost-saving measure, she said, although it maintains a presence electronically. The phone number listed in the phone book rings to her personal line.

Earlier this month a spokeswoman for United Way Worldwide confirmed that it had decertified the St. Croix organization in November 2014. She also said the international group had asked United Way of St. Thomas-St. John to expand its operations to the entire Virgin Islands.

Following that report, officials at United Way Worldwide and at United Way St. Thomas-St. John have clammed up. No one will even say whether or not the St. Thomas-St. John group is considering the request.

Meanwhile, the St. Croix group is still fighting for its existence.

“My board is meeting,” Davila said. “We have appealed” the decertification.

Board Chairman Averil George later said, “Our appeal has been denied.” But she and Davila said they are still trying.

The only reason that UW Worldwide has given publicly for the decertification is UW St. Croix’s failure to file required tax documents for 2011, 2012 and 2013. The IRS requires Form 990 for all tax exempt entities. Failure to file means the IRS may terminate an organization’s tax exempt status. In the case of UW St. Croix, “its tax exemption status was revoked by the IRS in 2014. As a result, UW St. Croix no longer met United Way Worldwide membership requirements,” according to a statement from Eileen Lin, media contact for United Way Worldwide.

Davila said this week that the group filed the missing tax documents on December 22, 2014 with the IRS and on December 23, 2014 with the Virgin Islands Bureau of Internal Revenue.

Lin refused to say whether UW Worldwide had any other problems with UW St. Croix’s operations besides the delinquent 990s or if it was aware that the group says the forms have now been filed.

Asked if UW Worldwide would reconsider the decertification if it had proof of the filings and if the IRS reinstated tax exempt status, she responded, “I cannot answer that question at this point.”

She also declined to say whether UW Worldwide is concerned that UW St. Croix has been accepting funds but not been distributing anything to non-profit groups.

It is unclear just how much money the group has received in the past year, but apparently it is a small amount.

“We lost about 80 percent of our income coming in from the St. Croix community when Hovensa [oil refinery] closed,” George said. That was about three years ago.

Davila said the group annually receives about $6,000 to $7,000 from voluntary payroll deductions from government workers.

Staff at Finance’s payroll division confirmed that deductions are sent to United Way each pay period. About 500 to 600 government workers contribute through payroll deductions to United Way in the St. Thomas-St. John District while only about 50 do the same on St. Croix. Of the approximately 7,000 government workers territory-wide, just slightly more than half are in the St. Thomas-St. John District. The bulk of contributions fall between $2 and $5 per semi-monthly pay period, although some workers contribute considerably higher amounts.

The V.I. Legislature also appropriates money each year from the government’s annual budget to “United Way” without specifying how the money is to be allocated between the two separate district entities. According to figures in the executive branch’s proposed 2015 budget, the amount actually allotted in 2013 was $22,250. In 2014, $40,050 was appropriated, but it is unclear how much of that was allotted or whether it was divided between the two groups.

For the current fiscal year 2015, which began Oct. 1, the Legislature appropriated $37,679. But again it is unclear whether any of that money has been allotted to date.

Davila said UW St. Croix has not accepted any government appropriation for the last two years. “We haven’t taken one cent from the government … We cannot accept any money until we know what our status is.”

However, she said the group can and does accept private donations including payroll deductions.

The St. Thomas-St. John group was established in 1980, according to its website. Davila said the St. Croix group started in 1989 “right after [Hurricane] Hugo.”

Vinod Dadlani, chief executive officer for the St. Thomas-St. John United Way, has not returned phone, email or text messages seeking comment over the past two weeks. Riise Richards, board chair, declined to say whether the board has made a decision or even if it is considering the request to expand its jurisdiction territory-wide. Henry Thomas, board vice chairman, said he would defer to Richards but would comment if she would not. However, when told she would not comment, he said he would have to return the call. He had not called back by deadline Friday.

“There’s still a lot of conversation going on,” Lin said, adding that representatives from Worldwide were in the territory last week. “We’re trying to talk to all the stakeholders in the community.” Those include volunteers, donors and board members.

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