Cuts to federal block grants threaten services for poor, elderly, disabled - East Valley Tribune: Msnbc

Cuts to federal block grants threaten services for poor, elderly, disabled

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Posted: Sunday, February 20, 2011 3:00 pm | Updated: 3:39 pm, Tue Feb 22, 2011.

Some services to the poor, elderly and disabled will be threatened if proposed cuts to federal Community Service Block Grants come to fruition, local charity and non-profit organization leaders fear.

The Obama administration called for the CSBG program to be slashed in half - by $350 million - when releasing its proposed 2012 fiscal year budget last week.

Arizona received $5.68 million in CSBG funds in fiscal year 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A substantial decrease would severely impact the state, which has the second-highest poverty rate in the country.

"It's really about what happens to the community," said Cynthia Zwick, executive director of the Arizona Community Action Association, a service and resource provider to the poor. "The reality is with the way the cuts are going locally, we're seeing the need increase.

"Agencies are serving only about one in 10 eligible families coming to our doors because we don't have the resources. Families are not going to have access to the resources and tools they need to become independent."

Arizona's community action agencies served 156,000 people throughout the state last year, including 54,000 families, Zwick said.

Such programs in danger include shelters, food delivery and job placement and training.

In a press briefing last week, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that "tough decisions" had to be made with the $3.7-trillion proposed budget, which would trim or eliminate more than 200 federal programs.

"Very little was spared ... to construct a budget that gets us back on a path toward fiscal responsibility," Gibbs said. "It's not that (President Obama) doesn't care about the grassroots; it's that all of these decisions are going to be tough."

In September, the U.S. Census Bureau announced the state-by-state poverty rates - in which Arizona trailed only Mississippi - and released a bevy of other statistics indicating that, locally, things will get worse before they get better:

• The median annual income of $48,745 per Arizona household in 2009 is down from $51,442 in 2007, a 5.2 percent drop.

• Last year, 10.7 percent of Arizonans received nutrition assistance benefits, up from 6.9 percent in '07. That is one of the largest increases in the nation, along with Nevada, Florida and Wisconsin.

• Child poverty in the state was at 23.4 percent in '09, up from 19.5 percent in '06

"Considering where Arizona is with poverty and other economic issues in these hard times, more people are struggling to make ends meet," said Brian Spicker, Valley of the Sun United Way senior vice president for community impact. "Many of the block-grant programs that provide programs for low-income individuals, it's going to be a lot harder for those folks."

The Valley of the Sun United Way does not directly receive CSBG funds. But it conducts regular outreach events where providers offer access to such services as employment referrals, wellness exams, shelter, counseling, food, clothing and haircuts.

Service providers fear that cutting grants are akin to kicking a can down the road, allowing problems to persist and grow when federal and state resources are in best position to help.

The tough economy has impacted private giving, and churches have been forced to tend to increasing needs among their congregations, Zwick said.

"The gap is getting bigger, so it's difficult to imagine how that gap will be filled," Zwick said. "It has been the role of government over time to serve Arizonans and Americans through a variety of resources. With those resources diminishing or being eliminated, there is no level of support to fill that gap.

"There are millions of dollars that needs to be restored to communities. I'm really not sure how that happens."

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