It looked like doomsday. The President of the United States, anxious to demonstrate toughness on the budget in his State of the Union Address, offered up just one domestic spending cut – the Community Action Agencies. And the cut was devastating: 50%. Did I just hear him right? Did he just single us out for cuts? A black president attacking the program that the civil rights movement spawned, the same movement that enabled him to cross the threshold of the White House. He’s proposed to cut the program in half?! Until then, we were spending as much on America’s anti-poverty network in a year as we spent in Afghanistan in 18 hours. The president’s proposal would cut it down to nine hours.
That emboldened conservatives in Congress, who were breathing fire at the opportunity to eviscerate domestic spending. They would one-up the President. They would propose killing the program. We’re dead.
Nearly every program that Community Action accesses in order to make the difference we strive to make was a target. Each battle would be waged.
HUD Housing Counseling funding was slated for elimination, the Community Development Block Grant was also targeted.
At the state level it got pretty bad, too, as Governor Corbett held the line on taxes but slashed nearly everything but the Corrections budget. And that’s really not irony.
ONCE AGAIN, WE’RE STILL IN IT
The story isn’t short; it’s taken years to develop, but we emerged only barely injured.
It was, as always, a long, strange trip, but the short story is that our Community Services Block Grant emerged uncut. Eventually, as the appropriations process unfolded, the budget brinksmanship actually produced a compromise and, thanks to special efforts by Congressman Charlie Dent, the program was cut just 2.7%. Now, don’t get me wrong: with need on an upward trajectory, we should be spending much more. But I’ll take that cut. By the end of the year, our program would be frozen instead of cut in the 2011-2012 appropriation. Thanks, Charlie!
Housing counseling got restored, with, once again, a key role played by Congressman Dent. We got more from LIHEAP than we budgeted. Other cuts stuck but, all things considered, we’re pretty lucky.
Our 2011-2012 budget was adopted before any of these funding issues were resolved. So, being the conservative that I am (no, really, I budget very conservatively), most of the cuts were less gruesome than I predicted. So, we can plug some of the gouges we took out of the agency.
SAFE HARBOR EASTON AND THE FOWLER COMMUNITY TECHNOLOGY CENTER
This decision has been made: Safe Harbor Easton is now independent, but we continue to send funding their way, including some key private sources. We are talking with a consortium of Southside organizations about spinning off the Fowler Children’s Technology Center. We think both of these programs will emerge better off.
TIME TO BUST OUT
But a year of hunkering down, protecting and defending our current efforts, is not Community Action at its best. Community Action at its best is building partnerships, innovating, and challenging our community to be better.
So, while our administrative costs remain below 8%, we are now able to move forward. And folks should watch for a number of moves that will resemble the Community Action that is, indeed, building partnerships, innovating, and challenging our community to be better.
Following are some things I can report publicly:
- We will raze 221-223 North Sixth Street and build a new building to expand the Sixth Street Shelter; Habitat for Humanity and First Presbyterian Church of Allentown are key partners and we have already raised more than $400,000 toward our goal of $660,000.
- With key support from Section 8 vouchers through the Allentown Housing Authority, we will use this as leverage to seek the additional support we’ll need to redevelop an Allentown Redevelopment Authority building on Turner Street into a long-term transitional housing program affiliated with the Sixth Street Shelter.
- We will release the results of an investigation we have been conducting that will, I assure our friends, rock a major boat in the Lehigh Valley; we will then begin the process of getting that problem solved.
- The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund will expand still further with the addition of at least one or two new products.
- We will explore the feasibility of two possible pre- and post-foreclosure ideas that will, if feasible, break new ground.
- We will play a role in finally getting non-profits, perhaps even ours, back to the business of developing affordable, multi-unit rental housing.
- We will do what we can to organize those who agree that the highest form of humanity is to see each other as friends, not enemies, family, not outcasts, and recognize we all have a fundamental obligation to the common good. And that means fighting unfair public policies that ignore that basic tenet.
So, we fully intend to make 2012 a better year than 2011. One might say that’s a modest goal, but the forces pushing back are strong and determined.
I hope you’ll join us.