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Catholic Charities feels pain of state budget cuts


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The state has notified Catholic Charities, the archdiocesan social services agency, that current funding for its programs has been severely cut as part of the budget reduction plan announced Oct. 15 by Gov. Deval L. Patrick.

Catholic Charities is the largest non-governmental supplier of social services in the state and many of it programs have contracts with state agencies.

Tiziana Dearing, the president of Catholic Charities, cited some examples of cuts to programs that were immediately clear. More are expected, however, as individual state agencies notify Catholic Charities of their specific plans to implement the governor’s budget cuts.

The Education and Parenting Skills, a collaborative effort of Catholic Charities North and the Department of Transitional Assistance/Employment Services Program operated in the El Centro del Cardinal and in Merrimack Valley lost between $50,000 and $75,000 in funding, she said.

The Family Intervention program in South Boston’s Laboure Center lost $128,000, a 50 percent cut in funding, she said.

The Haitian Multi-Service Center in Dorchester lost $79,000 in funding for its health promotion programs, which were funded by the Department of Public Health, she said.

Healthy Families programs in Haverhill, Lynn and Boston lost $100,000 in funding.

Debbie Rambo, the agency’s vice-president for programs, said that, so far, none of the agencies programs are closed or cancelled because of the cuts.

“None of the contracts pay for the entire cost of the program they fund; we fundraise to subsidize the state funded programming,” she said.

“None of the funding comes in lump sum, at the beginning of the contract year. In most instances, we get paid monthly,” Rambo added.

“The unfortunate part is that we are one-third of the way through the budget year but we have spent at a faster rate than the funding that remains to be spread over the rest of the year allows for,” she said.

“Services in the second part of the year have the potential to be dramatically reduced,” she added.

Dearing said that the tightening of credit terms by suppliers is also putting strain on some of Catholic Charities’ programs.

Because of the agency’s large volume, it has typically been allowed to pay on 45-day account for food and other items.

Recently, an employee from a shelter went into a chain store, which Dearing declined to name, and was denied the ability to charge food to the agency’s account because the company is now enforcing a 30-day billing cycle, she said.

“They told us: ‘We are sorry. We know you have always paid on time, but we can’t let you do that anymore,’” she said.

The demands put upon the agency as a result of the same economic downturn that prompted the budget cuts have also disrupted Catholic Charities’ budget and cash flow.

“Between January and April last year, demand went up 14 to 20 percent, and this year is going to get worse,” she said.

In addition to food and other items, the agency also finds itself facing a potential shortage of cash to provide assistance with utilities and other immediate needs.

“We paid $50,000 in NStar bills last year,” she said. “We are going to try to do the same amount this year, but there are going to be twice as many people this year who need help.”

In his Oct. 15 announcement, Gov. Patrick proposed more than $1 billion in immediate budget cuts, along with spending controls and plans to tap reserve accounts.

The estimated deficit is $1.4 billion, and the governor said the remainder of the gap will be filled by working with the legislature to make further cuts beyond his authority and long-term structural changes, such as changing the formula for the state’s contributions to employee health insurance.

By law, when the secretary of Administration and Finance notifies the governor that revenues will not match the state’s spending, the governor has 15 days to make a report and or propose remedies to the House and Senate Ways and Means committees, said Edward J. Saunders, the executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the four dioceses of Massachusetts.

The notification process that triggered the governor’s budget cuts is found in state’s general laws, chapter 29, section 9C, known by the shorthand “9C,” he said.

In the remedy process spelled out in section 9B, the governor may make budget cuts or propose new taxes, he said.

Any budget cuts made through this process are permanent and not subject to override, as would a line item veto, Saunders said. “What this means is that under ‘9C,’ cuts made in funding are effective upon the governor submitting the required report listing the cuts and reasons. So the cuts made to Catholic Charities are in effect.”

The only way the cuts can be challenged is to file a motion with the Supreme Judicial Court on the grounds that the proper notification process was not followed, he said.

There are offices and programs the governor cannot cut without supporting legislation. For those items the governor has filed a bill with the legislature and requested offices and departments make voluntary cuts, he said.

“In this legislation he has set various effective dates for some cuts. This bill is before the House Committee on Ways and Means, and one cannot predict how the bill will proceed,” he said.

State Rep. Timothy J. Toomey Jr., D, Cambridge, said, “In difficult times, we need to do everything we can to foster a supportive community, through our churches, our neighbors, and the state-funded neighborhood programs.”

“The drastic cuts from the governor’s office have had a big impact on social services, and I’ll be working to restore funding for the important work being done at the local level,” he added.

Rambo said, “Information about the cuts was made public through the governor’s office electronically. We then received individual calls and or emails from the respective funding agencies about specific details regarding the cuts.”

Meanwhile, as the holiday season approaches, Catholic Charities is beginning a new fundraising effort. Volunteers and supporters of the agency will host “Brown Bag” parties.

“You pay a fee, which is a financial contribution to Catholic Charities, then you make a goods contribution, which is what you put in the bag,” she said.

In addition to supporting the agency, the guests will learn about the agency and receive a situation briefing on economic situation and how Catholic Charities is responding to it, she said.

The first party will be hosted by the Bostonian Group Charitable Foundation at their Copley Square offices Nov. 13. More information is available at www.bostoniangroup.com.

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