Budget cut may impact nonprofits

The financial fate of a number of New Haven nonprofits may be in jeopardy if the president’s proposed budget is passed, though the organizations hope Congress will maintain the current level of federal funding.

President Bush’s federal budget for the 2009 fiscal year proposes to cut off funding for Community Services Block Grants — which help to subsidize state-run, nonprofit Community Action Agencies. Those involved with such organizations in Connecticut said they think Congress is unlikely to pass the budget provision but that, if it does, community service programs will face significant resource constraints.

CSBGs, which received a total of $654 million in federal money last fiscal year, currently provide for the administrative costs of running CAAs, which also receive funds from private sources such as the Hartford Foundation, said Juliet Manalan, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Association for Community Action.

These federal grants are allocated by Congress to the U.S. Department of Social Services, which in turn distributes the money to state governments. In Connecticut, the state government apportions CSBGs to member agencies, among them the Community Action Agency of New Haven. The New Haven group acts as an umbrella organization that provides community services, such as energy assistance, financial education, eviction prevention and the Meals on Wheels program, according to the Connecticut Association for Community Action’s Web site.

But Manalan said if the budget cuts manage to go through, many of the anti-poverty programs administered by Connecticut CAAs would quickly shut down.

“If the money’s not there, the programs won’t run,” she said.

Amos Smith, the president and CEO of the Community Action Agency of New Haven, said he also did not expect the cuts to be passed.

He said he was unable to speculate specifically on how the budget cuts could affect the Elm City, but he predicted adverse consequences.

“Community service block grants provide social support for our agencies as well as others,” he said. “There would be devastating effects on New Haven.”

Johnny Scafidi, the program director of Yale’s community service organization, Dwight Hall, said if such organizations did not receive the standard grants and new sources did not arise to replace the lost funding, New Haven would be a substantially different environment, in terms of services provided to the community and economic development.

Ronald Manning, deputy director of the City of New Haven’s Community Services Administration, expressed similar sentiments.

“If [the CSBG program] was to be eliminated … that would probably have a very negative impact in this state and nationwide,” he said. But Manning added that other public and private dollars would likely become available and CAAs could continue to operate without the grants, though perhaps at a different level.

Still, Manning said it is difficult to judge the possible effects of this proposed funding cut until a final budget is approved by Congress.

In an e-mail statement to the News, New Haven-area Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said she thinks CSBGs will remain a part of the budget, emphasizing the role they play in communities nationwide.

“The federal government has the obligation to … provide adequate resources to help our cities and towns with basic services such as housing, job training, emergency food and rent assistance, and other critical services for low-income families living closest to the edge,” DeLauro said. “While President Bush has consistently tried to eliminate this critical grant, the Congress — on a bipartisan basis — has rejected it, and I expect that as we move forward creating next year’s budget, we will continue to fund this program – even more so at this time of economic hardship for so many families.”

Manalan said she also thinks it is unlikely that the budget cut will pass. For the past four years, she said, President Bush has proposed to cut CSBGs, but each year Congress has reinstated them.

Last year, when the president made a similar budget proposal, Manalan said, 140 members of Congress from both parties signed a letter protesting the cuts.

“They’re going to bring it back,” she said.

According to the budget document, the cuts are being proposed because of the program’s “poor performance and/or duplication with other Federal programs that can achieve greater results and better focus on communities most in need.”

But Manalan said that Connecticut CAAs have consistently shown statistical and holistic results for their programs. State CAAs focus on helping low-income families reach self-sufficiency, she said, and have met success in terms of numbers.

Every year, CAAs — which serve about 220,000 people in Connecticut — publish reports demonstrating the specific financial returns for each program, Manalan said.

“It’s like a return on an investment,” she said. “And [the cuts] for Connecticut are particularly onerous because we actually do the work so we can give the results.”

Such positive outcomes are measures of Connecticut’s progress toward the official state goal of reducing child poverty by 50 percent by 2014, Manalan added. Currently, she said, 25 percent of Connecticut children live in households that cannot meet basic needs consistently.

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