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Budget cuts would devastate many and cost more

Anticipating increased needs people will have if proposed state budget cuts are approved in December, Scott Cooper, director of parish social ministries, and Ann Marie Byrd, director of development, said Catholic Charities Spokane has increased its annual Christmas Collection goal from $750,000, which it surpassed in 2010, to $800,000 for 2011.

Recently Rob McCann, executive director of Catholic Charities Spokane,  Marilee Roloff, director of Volunteers of America of Eastern Washington and North Idaho, and 42 other directors of nonprofits and social services wrote an open letter to legislators and the community on the expected impact of cuts to disability benefits, domestic violence programs, mental health care, homeless programs, subsidized child care, housing assistance, homeless shelters, food assistance and health care reimbursements.

Ann Marie Byrd and Scott Cooper
Ann Marie Byrd and Scott Cooper

“We are standing for the poor and marginalized, telling legislators and the community how the cuts will affect these individuals,” Scott said.  “Even smaller nonprofits that do not receive state funds will also be affected by greater demand for their services.”

“Catholic Charities believes that each and every person is made in the image and likeness of God and deserves respect, compassion and dignity.  We have been concerned about references in some media to the poor as lazy and being architects of their own suffering,” said Ann Marie.

“We have to take care of our brothers and sisters,” she said.  “It is not easy for someone suffering from mental illness or substance abuse simply to find a job.”

In his 16 years in social services in Spokane, Scott remembers nothing like the agencies’ coming together to make this public statement.

He said the Disability Lifeline program was intended to cover people as they transitioned to SSDI and SSI.  People dropped from the state’s program in November may have had no time to complete the process and now receive only food stamps.

Ann Marie explained that Catholic Charities provides a continuum of care for homeless people with its emergency sleeping programs and shelters to transitional and permanent housing. 

For example, St. Margaret’s Shelter first provides women shelter and then helps move them to transitional and then permanent housing.   

Scott wonders if the state is doing what the City of Spokane did last year, when it said it could not fund the House of Charity’s sleeping program in the summer.

“The community stepped up to fund the program rather than see it shut down,” he said, “but there are only so many times we can go to our donor base with the threat of programs shutting down.”

Catholic social teachings say that the government has a role to play in caring for the needy, he pointed out. 

It is not solely the role of private citizens and nonprofits,” he said.  “There is a role for the state, as well.  We may try to fill the gap, but we’ll be overwhelmed.

“What would it really mean for congregations to take responsibility for people seeking services?” he asked.  “They come with a spectrum of issues that need specialized care—criminal backgrounds, sexual offenses, mental illnesses, developmental disabilities and substance abuse. 

“How equipped are congregations to meet those needs?” he asked, repeating:  “Faith communities have a role and responsibility, but so does the state.  We have to work together.”

In fact, he said, the proposed budget cuts will not bring savings in the long-term, because there will be more deaths, more crime and more poverty.  There will be more fights and injuries on the streets, because more people will be living on the streets.  He said everyone will also pay through increased health insurance premiums as more people rely on emergency rooms for health care.

Ann Marie added that providing overnight shelter for someone at the House of Charity costs $4 to $6 a night, in contrast with the cost of more than $100 to house someone in jail overnight.  “We will all pay for that,” she said.

Scott said he is concerned about effects of the cuts in small, rural communities that some state programs do not reach, because some low-income people may have moved to those communities where the cost of living is lower. 

“If disability checks disappear and there’s no homeless shelter, where do people go?” he asked.

A Catholic Charities staff member in Colville reported receiving eight to 10 calls a day for assistance as more people there become homeless. 

The precursors are power shut offs, loss of employment, families being cut off TANF and people with mental or physical health issues losing support.

On the increased goal for the Christmas Collection, Ann Marie said Catholic Charities Spokane uses 93 percent of its income for direct services. She added that the community’s support of Catholic Charities “help us provide vital, life-saving programs and services to help us meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our midst.”

For information, call 358-4266 or visit catholiccharitiesspokane.org.

Summary of letter to legislators and community is The Sounding Board.