Local nonprofits weigh impact of proposed budget cuts

By Amelie Hecht

Published: Monday, February 28, 2011

Updated: Monday, February 28, 2011

newsmain

Justin McCallum / Tufts Daily

A crowd at a rally on Saturday protested against Congressional budget cuts passed by the House. The cuts would eliminate funding for programs supported by Americorps and Title X.

A Congressional vote to cut $61 billion from the federal budget could threaten nonprofit service organizations that serve the Medford and Somerville communities and engage many Tufts student volunteers and graduates.

The budget, which passed in the House of Representatives Feb. 19 and is still under consideration in the Senate, would eliminate funding for both the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which oversees AmeriCorps, and the Title X Family Planning program, which has since 1970 ensured public access to contraceptive supplies, services and information.

While the budget cuts might stem from the federal government, its effects will be felt close to home, many say.

National organizations may face major cuts

AmeriCorps provides funding for national and local service organizations like Jumpstart, LIFT, Teach for America, Youth Build and City Year.

Jumpstart, a nonprofit that works to prepare preschoolers in low-income communities for kindergarten, serves 45 preschools in the greater Boston area. The organization, which receives roughly 40 percent of its funding from AmeriCorps, employs between 50 and 60 Tufts students each year, according to Jumpstart Northeast Region Executive Director Susan Werley Slater.

Werley Slater said the federal budget cuts would have local implications.

"The cuts would dramatically affect the dollars that go towards social services in our communities," she told the Daily.

LIFT, a national AmeriCorps- supported organization that trains college students to address the immediate needs of its low-income clients, uses approximately 45 Tufts student volunteers in its Somerville office, according to LIFT Communications and Media Relations Manager Colleen Flynn.

LIFT would suffer if the proposed bill were to be enacted, Flynn said.

"From what we understand right now, the budget cuts would completely eliminate the Corporation for National and Community Service, which houses AmeriCorps," Flynn told the Daily.

"All of our full-time site coordinators who run the day-to-day operations at our local offices are funded by direct grants from AmeriCorps, so the cuts would be a direct hit to our funding," Flynn said.

LIFT and Jumpstart representatives said while the budget cuts would not result in their programs being shut down, they would significantly diminish the organizations' ability to deliver their services and could force them to close some service sites.

"We still have a diverse funding base, so it wouldn't entirely eliminate Jumpstart as an organization," Werley Slater said. "When we get the budget numbers back, we would of course fight to keep Tufts in our network, but if the budget cuts are significant, there is a chance the Tufts program might need to get cut."

Communities will be major victim, advocates say

The reproductive health-care provider Planned Parenthood is the largest recipient of Title X funding, and the removal of federal support would dramatically curtail the services it offers, according to senior Lydia Mitts, a Tufts Voices for Choice (VOX) executive board member.

VOX is associated with the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and aims to raise awareness about reproductive rights and sexual health.

The cuts to Planned Parenthood funding would widely affect access to family-planning services.

"Planned Parenthood is an important point of contact for students, and Tufts students often use its services," she said. "The cuts are going to impact anyone who uses Planned Parenthood — local community residents and Tufts students."

Flynn cited several other federally funded social-service programs whose low-income-area clients would suffer as a result of the proposed cuts. In particular, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a federal program which helps low-income family fund their home-energy needs, would be eliminated, she said.

"People who are in need of financial assistance to get heat for the winter — the low-income and the elderly — would be without resources for that," Flynn said. "It's a necessary program for a lot of our clients."

The disappearance of educational programs would equally pose major challenges for educators who have come to rely heavily on AmeriCorps services, according to Werley Slater.    

"We have become an integral part of the preschools and the communities that we serve," Werley Slater said. "Where schools have become used to having extra help being able to provide quality service to children, we would see additional stress to teachers, parents and other providers."

Nancy Wilson, the director and associate dean of the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, said that the budget cuts would only marginally impinge on the college's core projects, given that most of its funding comes from private endowments and annual gifts. The cuts, however, could impact the university's involvement in certain endeavors, like the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement and the Massachusetts Campus Compact, according to Wilson.

Tisch College Program Coordinator Rachel Szyman said the college would work to fill the void that a removal of federal support for nonprofit organizations and social services would create.

"The proposed budget cuts facing many of our community partners makes the work of Tisch College and Tufts faculty, staff and students across all our campuses more important than ever," she said in an e-mail.

Complicating the job search

The elimination of AmeriCorps funding could limit job openings for graduating seniors, as many look to join service organizations like Teach for America, YouthBuild USA and City Year, all of which rely on AmeriCorps grants, she said.

"The cuts would impact the post-graduate opportunities that many students seek," Wilson said. "There is a whole range of organizations that get AmeriCorps funding that our graduates go into."

Students looking for volunteer and paid service jobs before graduation might also find limited options were the budget cuts to be approved, according to Wilson.

"The loss of Jumpstart and LIFT would mean a loss of a huge number of really high-quality community-engagement opportunities for students at Tufts," she said.

Students fight to stem budget cuts

Grassroot efforts sprung up across the nation last week to combat the proposed cuts, according to Flynn.

"Right now there is a huge groundswell in the nonprofit sector that relies on public funding," she said. "Groups are doing a lot of publicity and outreach, trying to explain the importance of CNCS and AmeriCorps."

Werley Slater said service organizations throughout the country have formed coalitions in order to speak out against the budget cuts.

"We are in full-fledged advocacy and education mode," she said. "We want to make sure all of the members [of Congress] are very much aware of the types of services service organizations provide."

VOX members have organized petition-signing campaigns and have urged Tufts community members to reach out to their congressional representatives, according to Mitts.

"We have been in Dewick and Carmichael and the [Mayer] Campus Center getting people to call their representatives and senators and tell them we don't want them to pass the current budget," she said.

"This is an all-hands-on-deck call to save service," Werley Slater agreed.

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This article has been changed from its original version, which inaccurately referred to Susan Werley Slater on subsequent reference as Slater, rather than Werley Slater, in two instances.

 

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