(Editor's note: This article was updated at 10:40 a.m. on Wednesday with additional information from Tri-CAP Deputy Director Loretta Kemp.)
Tri-City Community Action Program (Tri-CAP), the Malden-based organization that has several programs available to Melrose residents, is taking action to fight proposed cuts in federal funding for home heating oil assistance and other services.
On Feb. 14, President Obama released budgets for fiscal year 2012, which propose drastic cuts to domestic spending. The cuts, proposed in his Jan. 25 State of the Union address, are an attempt to reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade. Included in these is a 50 percent cut to the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) funds.
The block grants help Tri-CAP and 23 other community action agencies in Massachusetts, which serve 250,000 families and employ 4,000 people. In the current fiscal year, Tri-CAP is projected to receive $430,000 from the block grant program.
Cutting this will seriously hinder and could end several programs Tri-CAP currently operates, according to Tri-CAP Executive Director Philip Bronder-Giroux.
These include, among others, Tri-CAP’s Head Start Program, which provides education, health, and nutrition services to low-income children and their families; the Pro Bono Legal Project (PBLP), which provides legal advice, information, advocacy, referral and representation to low-income residents; and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, all of which are available to eligible Melrose residents.
“These are a collection of programs that allows us to be responsive to a number of community needs,” Bronder-Giroux said. “CSBG helps us support these programs and services that would otherwise be unfunded.”
Loretta Kemp, Tri-CAP deputy director, said other programs available to Melrose residents and funded through CSBG include:
- Fuel Assistance Program, which helps people with residential heating costs
- HeartWAP, a heating system repair and replacement program
- Housing opportunities for people with AIDS
- The CyberCafe at Malden Square, which provides free internet and e-mail.
"All of these programs are funded by CSBG, along with other programs," Kemp said. "There are other funding sources with them, but CSBG does play a key factor in funding for all of them."
Supporters of community action programs setup a website, capworks.org, where supporters can sign a petition or print letters to send to the President, senators and representatives.
“Ask yourself, can we really afford to lose these programs at a time like this?” asked Bronder-Giroux.
Fighting poverty at the community level
The services block grant is the only federal program dedicated to fighting poverty on a community level. The grants fund community action agencies across the country, which work to help decrease poverty by promoting self-sufficiency and certain basic aid.
The agencies depend largely on volunteer work and federal funds to continue to operate these programs. According to the budget documents released on Feb. 14, the cut will reduce funds to the CSBG from $700 million to $350 million nationally.
“I'm willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without,” Obama said in his State of the Union address. “But let's make sure that we're not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Democratic delegation opposes cuts; no word from Brown
According to some members of Massachusetts' delegation in Washington, D.C., many people believe that the “vulnerable citizens” are exactly who these cuts are hurting.
“These programs aren’t just lines in a budget—they’re lifelines for our most vulnerable, and they must be preserved,” Congressman Edward Markey, D-MA 7th District, said in a press release. “The poor, the disabled, the elderly, and children all depend on community action programs. We must not balance the budget on the backs of the disadvantaged citizens in our communities.”
“These local efforts in Massachusetts are helping struggling families, kids, and senior citizens keep their heads above water,” Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, said in a press release. “I’m ready to make tough budget choices and real cuts, but I don’t think community action programs are the place to slash just as we’re pulling the country out of the economic ditch.”
Shortly following the President’s announcement, Markey, Kerry and nine other Massachusetts Congressmen issued a letter to the President opposing these cuts.
“We respectfully submit, Mr. President, that cuts to CSBG funding would sever the indispensable lifelines that are relied upon each day by our country’s most vulnerable,” they said in the Feb. 7 letter. The President has not yet responded to the letter.
Sen. Scott Brown was not among the signatories of the letter. Markey Press Secretary Giselle Barry indicated Brown was asked and failed to respond to the invitation. However, Brown has come out against the budget, saying that the new budget does not put the country on solid fiscal ground, adding that the budget almost double the country's debt in 10 years.
Brown did not return requests for comment.