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Judy Masterson: Budget cuts too costly for needy families

Thomas Delany Jr. Staff Photographer.
Judy Mastersresporter for The News Sun.

Thomas Delany Jr. Staff Photographer. Judy Masterson, resporter for The News Sun. 7/12/06

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Updated: February 9, 2011 2:44AM

It’s no surprise that the working poor are once again being asked to stretch out their necks on the budget chopping block. What’s a surprise is that the nation’s first black president, a man whose own single mother depended on food stamps to feed her family, is proposing to drop the blade.

President Obama wants to cut financing for federal community service block grants by half, for a savings of $350 million. But that “savings” will come at great cost to people who desperately need help.

The Community Action Partnership of Lake County uses block grants to help 4,000 people a year with their subsistence needs: food, shelter, utilities, prescription drugs. “We could serve more,” said CAP Executive Director Mary Lockhart White. “But every year we run out of money.”

CAP partners with a consortium that includes Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army. If a family needs $1,000 to meet a mortgage payment, each agency pays a share.

“We don’t just hand the money out,” White said. “We go by poverty guidelines – a household of five that’s not making more than $30,000. We’re helping the working poor.”

CAP national spokesman Don Mathis said that 17 percent of the agency’s funding goes to administrative overhead – on par with United Way. Decisions about how to allocate the money are made by state and local governments.

“I support the president,” Mathis said. “He’s done a lot of great things and I think he cares about poor people. But I think he’s flat wrong on this one. People in this country depend on those funds. These aren’t people who take cruises to the Bahamas or ski trips to the Alps. They’re trying to feed their families, stay warm, get job training.”

“We’ve always had to fight for dollars,” White said. “We’ve always presented data to show where services are needed in the county. And the need continues to rise. We’ve seen more new faces in the last year than ever before. And it’s due to layoffs.”

Maybe Obama plans to use the money he can squeeze out of CAP to create jobs. Maybe he truly believes the unemployed and underemployed can make do with less. Or maybe he’s just forgotten what it’s like to be poor.

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