PLATTSBURGH - The Joint Council for Economic Opportunity of Clinton and Franklin Counties could be among organizations that could lose critical funding from the federal government.
Bruce E. Garcia, executive director of the nonprofit organization based in Plattsburgh, addressed the Clinton County Legislature during a regular meeting of the board Feb. 23, citing his concerns over a proposal by Congress to reduce funding for federal Community Services Block Grant by 42 percent. The grant provides $265,000 which the organization then combines with more than $350,000 of other resources for its outreach efforts, said Garcia. President Barack Obama's budget request for the 2012 fiscal year also includes changes in funding for community action, which will reduce CSBG funding even further.
"The remaining funding would be granted on a competitive basis," added Garcia, "a process which traditionally has not favored rural areas such as ours. So, if the president's plan is passed, it could well mean the loss of all CSBG funding for Clinton County."
That would have a devastating effect for the two-county region, said Garcia, considering JCEO has contracts with 11 towns in Clinton County which fund community outreach centers. The centers provide essential services for residents, said Garcia, such as weatherization application assistance; assistance with shut-off or eviction notices, and information and referrals to other services such as food stamps, the state's Home Energy Assistance Program and monthly food co-op packages through the Regional Food Bank.
"This would virtually close all of our community outreach centers," Garcia told legislators, adding each center also provides emergency food packages and collects and distributes clothing to low-income families and senior citizens.
According to Garcia, the towns each pay a portion of the expense for employing the outreach workers, which totals $175,750. JCEO utilizes the CSBG funding to complete the wage and fringe benefits package, amounting to $54,000.
"Without CSBG funding, none of the services I've talked about exist," said Garcia.
Legislator Sara E. Rowden, D-Area 4, asked if there has been an increase in a demand for services in recent years. Garcia replied that the amount of families served in a recent two-month period alone was up by 30 percent.
"Our food pantries especially have seen a dramatic increase," he said. "The demand is significant."
Legislator Robert W. Heins, R-Area 10, asked Garcia if state budget cutbacks have any effect on JCEO services, to which Garcia replied they do not.
"Not really. Most of our funding is federal funding," said Garcia.
Garcia asked the legislators to consider adopting a resolution he prepared asking for their support of Congress maintaining its level of CSBG funding.
"I believe that the loss of the services I've mentioned represent a significant loss for Clinton County and directly impact our most vulnerable residents - low-wage workers, senior citizens and children," said Garcia. "I hope that you will consider passing the resolution and show your support for the continued operation of community action."
Clinton County Legislature chairman James R. Langley Jr., R-Area 7, said he anticipates Garcia's request will be placed on the agenda of the board's next meeting, which has been rescheduled from Wednesday, March 9, to Wednesday, March 16. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m.
By the numbers
In order to give an idea of the need for JCEO in the community, Garcia provided the following snapshot of data collected from October to December:
• 3,590 families utilized the food pantries
• 570 families received regular HEAP benefit and 67 families received emergency HEAP benefits
• 343 families received information/referral to other community resources
• 180 families utilized the monthly food co-op purchases
• 115 families received clothing
• 29 families received emergency assistance with utility payments to avoid utility shut-offs
• 11 disabled individuals were assisted with moving into permanent housing
• 2 seniors were assisted with rental payments allowing them to maintain permanent housing
During that time, volunteer drivers also spent 8,559 hours providing 230 rides for senior citizens, 121 rides for disabled individuals and 227 rides for Medicaid adults and children. JCEO also received 45,452 pounds of food donated by Walmart, Sam's Club, Target and other local vendors that were then distributed through its network of food pantries.
"Again, without CSBG funding, none of these services would have been provided," said Garcia.