Grant cuts affect local social services

Erin Roof

Local social service organizations can expect less funding this year because of cuts in the federal Community Development Block Grant.

Gary Locke, the city plans administrator, said the funding cuts are substantial.

“We lost about $37,000 (this year),” he said. “When the president proposed the budget, he proposed the program be eliminated all together. I think a lot of congressional folks were concerned.”

The council will have $310,000 to distribute for 2006. Locke said this amount has decreased for the last 10 years because of funding cuts.

Funds from the grant are primarily used for infrastructure maintenance, such as road, sidewalk and park improvements. Fifteen percent of the city’s allocation is allowed to help fund social service organizations, said Doug Wagener, director of resource development for Family and Community Development.

Wagener said Kent City Council gave the organization more than $25,000 from the funds last year to help operate Miller House and Portage Area Transitional Housing, programs that house area homeless people.

“[The funds have] been under attack by the Bush administration,” he said. “They are vital. It is a tough thing to run a homeless shelter. It costs more to run it than there are grants to support.”

Family and Community Development serves 26,000 people per year and has a staff of 190 employees, Wagener said. It has a $7 million annual budget, he said.

The grant funds also support Townhall II, said Sue Whitehurst, executive director of the organization. She said Townhall II receives $12,000 to $20,000 of its $2.8 million annual budget from the funds.

“It may sound like a little bit of money, but it is really important for us,” she said. “Truthfully, we would have a great deal of difficulty making it up.”

The funds help pay for services for people without Medicaid or insurance, Whitehurst said. The funding supports Townhall II’s crisis helpline, alcohol and drug counseling department and free clinic, she said.

“We would have to reduce our staff in order to provide services without going into a deficit,” she said. “In the long run, our waiting list would get longer.”

Locke said the grant allows the city to fund eight to 10 area social service programs.

“(If) that money keeps going down each year, that number might have to keep going down,” he said. The council will discuss this grant March 8 and make its final decisions later this spring.

To qualify for funding, Locke said an organization must meet the federal department of Housing and Urban Development’s objectives.

“We look if it is a program that can fill a particular need within the community,” he said.

Along with maintenance and social services, the grant helps fund other local programs that benefit the community, Locke said.

“We fund the small business development center,” he said. “They provide technical assistance to residents of Kent who might be interested in starting their own businesses.”

Whitehurst said while the funds from this grant are essential to providing social services, organizations are getting used to having less.

“I know it has been a really bad year,” she said. “In nonprofit social services, even in the best years, overhead goes up faster than the rate of funding. There are not a lot of resources out there. We’ve been doing more for less for 10 years now.”

Contact public affairs reporter Erin Roof at [email protected]