Proposed grant funding reduction could cut deep

By ALEXANDRA SONDEEN
Herald Staff Writer

Grant funding on the federal chopping block could have a heavy impact on local organizations.

The U.S. Senate begins voting on the federal budget Monday. Up for consideration is a suggestion to slice half of the $700 million Community Services Block Grant program, a grant Jasper-based Tri-Cap and Lincoln Hills Development Corp. in Tell City receive each year. The remaining amount would then become a competitive grant.

Tri-Cap, which serves Dubois, Pike and Warrick counties, receives about $175,000 in funding from this block grant each year. The money is used to supplement funding for all of the organization’s programs including weatherization, energy assistance and Head Start.

“That small amount of funding goes a long, long way in our agency,” Executive Director Joyce Fleck said. “It’s not used just for administration.”

The largest chunk of the grant funds is used for four family health clinics, in Jasper, Petersburg, Boonville and a satellite clinic in Evansville. The clinics provide low-cost and free services for area residents in need.

“For thousands of people without health care, clinics are their only option,” Fleck said, noting that Tri-Cap’s clinics have helped detect cancer and other illnesses.

The organization sees nearly 2,000 clinic patients each year, about two-thirds of whom are treated for a sexually transmitted disease. Funding for the services had been reduced previously.

“That funding from Title X has already been voted out (at the House level), so the (community services grant) funding kicks in even more,” Fleck said. “All of our health program funds are at stake right now and it’s scary.”

If the cut goes through, about 1,100 community action agencies will compete for the remaining funds. As one of the smallest agencies in the state based on census data used to allocate the community services grant funding, Tri-Cap could potentially be out of the running for the money.

“We don’t know how competitive we would be with other groups,” Fleck said. “The rules for that haven’t been set.”

Dubois County’s economic standing also  could hamper the organization’s competitiveness with larger agencies.

“Dubois County is a great economic area,” Fleck said. “It hasn’t been hit nearly as heavily as the rest of the country, and that kind of masks the poverty that’s here. The folks that need help in our area are already at a disadvantage to get the federal funding to begin with.”

A reduction or elimination of funding could force Tri-Cap to trim service areas, limit the availability of existing services or raise fees at health clinics, Fleck said.

“We don’t know what we’ll do until we have the facts in front of us telling how funding might be cut, so it’s really hard to talk numbers at this point,” she said. “We kind of operate on a shoestring as it is. When we get a dollar, we stretch it like six times to try to make it last as long as we can.”

Tri-Cap is encouraging past and current clients to come forward and relay their stories so that they may be shared with local congressmen in the hopes of softening the blow.

“The people who are talking about these cuts likely have never needed our services,” Fleck said. “So they don’t understand what the impact could be.”

The director also is concerned that if the grant funding is reduced or eliminated, it might never come back.

“This is happening at the federal level,” she said. “If this goes away, it’s going to be very hard to get it back into the budget later.”

Lincoln Hills, which serves Spencer, Crawford and Perry counties, receives about $150,000 each year. Executive Director Larry Kleeman said the impact of reduced funding could be massive for the small organization.

“We’re extremely concerned about the cuts that are being proposed,” he said. “We were prepared for cuts, but the magnitude is what surprised us.”

Kleeman said the proposed grant reductions combined with other proposed funding cuts could wreak havoc for the agency. Lincoln Hills could have to lay off 45 or 50 employees, about a fourth of its work force. The organization also might need to cut back hours of operation or even close one or more of its three community service offices. Head Start sites also could be closed.

“It’s all rather fluid right now,” Kleeman said. “We don’t know what might happen.”

Contact Alexandra Sondeen at asondeen@dcherald.com.




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