Community action agencies face 50 percent cut in Obama budget

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A proposed 50 percent cut in funding for local community action agencies included in President Barack Obama's $3.7 trillion budget could leave local children, women and senior citizens, without public assistance.

Head Start, Section 8 housing, weatherization, utility assistance, job training, family planning and other programs administered by the East Missouri Action Agency and Delta Area Economic Opportunity Corp. in Southeast Missouri are at risk if the proposed cut in Community Services Block Grant funding is approved by Congress as part of the 2012 budget.

In fiscal year 2009, the East Missouri Action Agency served 1,200 families in Cape Girardeau County, including 1,339 children and 589 senior citizens, according to Bill Bunch, director of the East Missouri Action Agency in Park Hills, Mo.

The funding -- received by Missouri's 19 community action agencies from the federal Community Service Block Grant program -- is used to cover administration costs for other federal assistance programs. It also supplements those programs and funds other initiatives local agency boards think are needed. The proposed budget would cut the program in half, saving $350 million.

Missouri received $17.4 million in federal Community Services Block Grants last year, less than a quarter-percent of the discretionary spending President Obama is targeting, said Elaine West, executive director of the Missouri Association for Community Action.

She's scheduling appointments with members of Congress next week to make the case to preserve community service block grant funding. She's also promoting a "Save Community Action" Facebook page and online petition.

But before they can worry too much about the proposed 2012 budget cut, community action agencies must first face a reduction in funding for this year's programs already in progress as Congress struggles to adopt a continuing budget resolution. This is a stopgap effort to fund government operations for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 because Congress failed to adopt a budget last year or pass any appropriations bills.

"We have no idea what will happen to the budgets of the many federally funded programs that we operate as the current fiscal year budget is debated in the House and Senate," said Jean Barham, executive director of the Delta Area Economic Opportunity Corp., serving Scott, Stoddard, Pemiscot, New Madrid, Mississippi and Dunklin counties. "... It is possible that the final budget adopted for various programs could be less than what has already been obligated for those contracts."

"This will be devastating," said John McGowan, director of community impact for the United Way of Southeast Missouri. "They are already on a shoestring budget. This will impact the lowest of the low. The people who are in the greatest need will feel the greatest impact."

The United Way's First Call for Help program refers people to the East Missouri Action Agency for assistance with housing and utility bills.

"This will hit everybody. Now those people who don't get help will be coming to other agencies like the Salvation Army, local churches, Love In the Name of Christ. It will drive up the need even more than what we're seeing," McGowan said. "We're not even meting our existing community needs now."

As director of the East Missouri Action Agency, serving Cape Girardeau, Bollinger, Iron, Madison, Perry, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve and Washington counties, Bunch is facing tough decisions as he considers the effect if the proposed 50 percent cut is approved.

"Most certainly there will have to be layoffs, but those depend on the level of the cuts," Bunch said. "I would expect that our Cape facility, which houses the local Head Start center, a housing office, community services outreach office and women's wellness staff, will remain open, but unquestionably fewer services would be offered if cuts at the level we are hearing about are enacted."

He's already moved one person from full time to part time and is working to reduce expenses by cutting travel and supply costs.

Family planning, also known as Title X funding, is earmarked for termination in the current version of the continuing budget resolution. As a result, Barham is urging clients to schedule exams and pick up prescription refills as soon as possible.

"If they can't get in for an appointment to receive contraceptives and it takes them a while to get another medical provider, or they can't afford one, they may get pregnant. That's going to end up costing a lot more," Barham said.

She said her agency always makes an effort to spend money efficiently, but they're considering a number of scenarios should proposed program cuts be adopted by Congress.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent Address:

1111 Linden St., Cape Girardeau MO

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