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42 service providers run ad, ‘We are standing for the poor’

Forty-two social service agencies and faith-based ministries—serving 150,000 people a year, employing thousands and often the last source of hope—signed an open letter to state legislators and to the community to announce:  “We are standing for the poor.”

With support of an anonymous donor and discounted ad rate, they ran the letter as a full-page ad in the Spokesman-Review on Thanksgiving.

Our missions and values demand we stand for the poor,” they said.  “We believe legislative decisions involving budget cuts cannot continue to be made at the expense of the poor.”

They said their stand is based on “a moral and fiscal imperative to preserve services for our most vulnerable people.”  They point out that if services are delayed or eliminated, “the ultimate costs to our communities will multiply.”

The people they serve are already hurting—many just barely hanging on.  They know more cuts will be devastating.

They ask the legislators and community to consider:

On Nov. 1, adults with mental and physical disabilities lost GAU/Disability Lifeline benefits of $197 per month.  Now only 51 percent of them will receive six months more of rental assistance.  Their disabilities will not disappear in that time.

Requests for domestic violence services in Spokane have increased 21 percent in three years, but the Department of Social and Health Services recommends a substantial decrease in funding to these programs.

Untreated and under-treated mental illness is the largest factor driving individuals into poverty.  At Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and Transitions, at least two thirds identify a mental health issue as a reason they sought help.  This year Spokane Mental Health has seen a 20 percent increase in the number of assessments for involuntary hospitalization.  The state continues to cut funds that help the poor access mental health care.

A third of the homeless in Spokane are children. The number of homeless families with children increased 38 percent in the past five years. 

The number of parents receiving Working Connections subsidized child care has dropped 26 percent in the last three months.    Funds for child-care centers serving poor families and for programs confronting and preventing child abuse and neglect have been or will be cut drastically.  Sally’s House, emergency foster care, and Transitions’ Edu Care child care for homeless families will close if cuts are not restored or local funds secured.

In August, nearly 700 households asked SNAP for housing or rental assistance.  The House of Charity, Hope House and St. Margaret’s homeless shelters are filled every night.  More than 900 people were turned away last year at those shelters.  State dollars  for homelessness services and shelters have decreased.  Several of Spokane’s largest homeless service providers are considering program closures or scale backs. 

 • Second Harvest has seen a 30 percent increase in requests for food assistance in the past two years.  More cuts to Human Services and Emergency Food and Shelter Grants are scheduled in coming months. Elimination of State Food Assistance Programs will affect 13,000 people.   Where will people in need go for food and shelter—the most basic components to life? they asked.

Providence Services, which includes Sacred Heart and Holy Family Hospitals, projects a $34 million budget shortfall in 2011 and a $61 million shortfall in 2012, with much of those losses coming from public funding cuts in reimbursements for health care.   Meanwhile, Providence already spends nearly $100 million a year in charity care and community benefit donations.

Signers also expressed concern about angry rhetoric against the poor.  “These are our children, brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins,” they said, troubled by descriptions of the poor and fragile as lazy or “being architects of their own suffering.”  As a society, they said, “we are judged by how we take care of our most vulnerable neighbors.”

Signers ask legislators to consider the common good and needs of people who are voiceless, powerless or invisible.  They call for people of compassion and faith to contact their legislators and stand with the poor.

For information, call 358-4264.