Covenant with Children forms fund

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Covenant with North Carolina’s Children, an advocacy group that lobbies on behalf of other children’s organization’s, has formed a charitable arm to raise money to support its educational programs that do not involve lobbying.

The new Covenant with North Carolina’s Children Education Fund aims to raise $30,000 in 2008 from foundations and other donors who cannot take tax deductions on contributions to the Covenant because its main purpose is lobbying.

Unlike donors making contributions to the Covenant, which is a tax-exempt organization, donors making contributions to the group’s new Education Fund are eligible for tax deductions, says Brian Lewis, executive director and lobbyist for the Covenant.

Formed 12 years ago as a program of the North Carolina Child Advocacy Institute, which since has been renamed Action for Children North Carolina, the Covenant was spun off four years ago as a separate 501(c)4 social-welfare nonprofit.

The Covenant has raised roughly $50,000 a year from its 100 members, Lewis says.

Now with students in the law clinic at the School of Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill again working for it on a pro-bono basis, the Covenant has formed a 501(c)3 charitable nonprofit.

Chaired by Michael Rieder, executive director of Haven House Services, a Raleigh nonprofit that serves young people in difficult situations, the Covenant offers a range of education programs.

Education programs the new fund will support include monthly meetings the Covenant convenes throughout the state for child advocates to talk about problems facing children in such fields as health care, mental health, juvenile justice, education, child welfare and safety.

The Covenant also partners with communities and child-advocacy agencies to help spread the word about children’s issues.

The Covenant, for example, is holding meetings throughout the state to share a report by Action for Children that calls for increasing to 18 from 15 the age at which the state’s juvenile-justice system treats young people as adults.

And each Friday, the Covenant distributes its Weekly Update, an email newsletter that tracks all bills and votes among lawmakers that affect children.

Priority issues for the Covenant are improving children’s access to health care and to education, and addressing the needs of families struggling in a tough economy.

This year, the Covenant helped persuade state lawmakers to make more families eligible for subsidized health insurance by increasing the annual income a family of four can earn and still receive some of the subsidy.

The Covenant also helped persuade lawmakers to increase by $20 million, for a total of nearly $300 million, a supplemental fund for disadvantaged students.

And after helping to persuade lawmakers to raise the minimum wage by $1, to $6.15 an hour, compared to a federal minimum wage that since has been raised from $5.15 to $6.85, the organization continues to push state lawmakers to create a “living wage” that would peg the minimum wage to the inflation rate.

“Right now,” Lewis says, “the poorest workers are getting a pay raise every 10 years through minimum wage increases.”

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