Human service programs face loss of government support
DEERFIELD — At an anti-poverty agency’s annual gratitude luncheon Friday, federal and state lawmakers were told more tax dollars are needed to support poverty programs in the Pioneer Valley.
Community Action — whose reach stretches to nearly 360,000 people across Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties and the North Quabbin region — received 82 percent of its $31 million revenue last year from federal or state funding.
But human services budgets have seen cuts in recent years, and more may come soon if automatic federal “sequestration” cuts occur, said Jo Comerford, executive director of the National Priorities Project — a Northampton-based nonprofit research organization that analyzes, summarizes and publishes budget and tax information for the public.
“The next two months are critical if we want to change our nation’s budget course,” Comerford said during a keynote speech at the luncheon at Deerfield Academy. “Think about the programs that you’ve heard about today. Think about sequestration, which would hit these programs harder than they’ve already been hit.”
U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern told attendees that Community Action provides the services he routinely fights for in Washington.
And three state representatives — Denise Andrews, Stephen Kulik and Paul Mark — said they plan to use what they learned about Community Action’s programs during discussions on Beacon Hill.
Andrews, D-Orange, feels it necessary to back Community Action, because she said it is the region’s “top provider” in services for families in need and youth.
“In our society, we have the haves and have-nots, and that split is becoming too much,” she said after the event. “That’s not OK for our country and it’s not OK for our communities.”
Kulik, D-Worthington, said he has trouble imagining what this region would be like without Community Action. On the House Committee on Ways and Means, he plans to look out for the agency’s interests during budget discussions.
“I’m a little disappointed in the governor’s budget proposal,” said Kulik, after the lunch. “While he is proposing significant spending increases, not a lot of that is directed toward human services. ... I’m hoping that as we go through the legislative process, we can address a lot of these needs.”
During the event, Executive Director Clare Higgins, the former Northampton mayor, ran through numbers from Community Action’s 2012 annual report: 16,400 people given fuel assistance, 3,100 that now live in more energyefficient homes, 850 children prepared for early education programs and 150 young people who learned how to become better parents.
The numbers on the agency’s budget chart “represent change in a person’s life, they represent a world of possibilities,” said Higgins.
After Higgins briefly highlighted each of the agency’s programs, three awards were given to local volunteers and philanthropists.
Christopher “Monte” Belmonte — a radio personality for WRSI, who pushes a shopping cart from Northampton to Greenfield as a fundraiser and awareness event for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts — earned the Jane Sanders Achievement Award.