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Advocates say cuts could hurt local efforts

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ANN MARIE AMES
February 28, 2011
— Reductions in the federal budget could cost many Rock and Walworth county residents in the form of cuts to programs and services.

The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee on Feb. 19 passed a continuing resolution, referred to as H.R. 1, which proposes cutting more than $100 billion in discretionary spending yet in fiscal year 2011.


The Senate this week could take up the legislation, which represents the largest single discretionary spending cut in the history of Congress.


H.R. 1 includes more than $300 million in cuts to community service block grants, which is the single-largest source of money for Community Action, said Marc Perry, Community Action's director of planning and development in Rock and Walworth counties.


Community Action operates across the United States. Locally, the agency coordinates services with other agencies and provides child care, education, homelessness prevention services and others.


The proposal to slice the block grants "cripples the work that's done locally on the ground," Perry said.


In a letter sent to Rep. Paul Ryan, a Janesville Republican who represents the 1st District, Community Action officials listed programs that could be lost if the federal funding goes away.


Rock and Walworth county residents depend on Community Action, the letter states. In Rock County, more than 8,000 people lost jobs in the last several years, and the city of Beloit has the highest unemployment rate in the state, according to the document.


In Walworth County, no public transportation exists to connect residents with services. A growing Latino population creates "unique service challenges."


"This is not about CAI (Community Action), but about losing a valuable resource for low-income families in our community and the impact that those resources have had in Rock and Walworth counties," the letter states.


Here are a few of the programs at risk, according to Community Action documents:


-- Community Action's Skills Enhancement Program focuses on training for in-demand occupations such as technology, business and health care.


More than 50 percent of the graduates have been in the health field. Based on five years of data, the program has demonstrated an average earning increase of $4.12 per hour and annual wage increases of $11,079.48.


-- Youth Build participants earn high school diplomas and learn trades. In 2009 and 2010, 39 out of 40 participants earned their diplomas. In an area of the highest unemployment in Wisconsin, youth with no income at entry have gained employment with an average hourly wage of $9.94.


-- Fatherhood Initiative participants gain job skills, become more employable, connect with their families and take care of legal obligations. Based on three year's worth of trend data, the Fatherhood Initiative has recovered $52,192 in child support payments, and participants have paid more than $25,000 in fees to local municipalities.


-- Community Action weatherized 603 homes in 2010, which provided clients with an average savings of 25 percent in energy costs.


-- Through the support of 15 local food pantries, Community Action provided 2,959,488 pounds of food to families in Rock and Walworth counties.


-- Community Action in 2010 provided health care to 3,462 people who could not otherwise afford it.


Perry said he is well aware of the cuts that need to be made to balance state and federal budgets.


"Cuts are having to be made," Perry said. "We understand everybody's belt has to be tightened. Just don't cut off the circulation."



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