By Seann McAnally
The Community Assistance Council - the only "lifeline" program for the needy in South Kansas City - will have to make due with less this next fiscal year.
The Kansas City Council on March 11 approved disbursement of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds as part of the 2010-11 budget process.
“At this time, we believe we will receive approximately 70% of this year’s budget,” said Carol Bird Owsley, CAC’s executive director. “Based on those numbers, our Board of Directors is trying to determine where cuts can be made, without disrupting client services to the community.”
CAC provides food, housing, utility, and medical assistance to needy families in the South Kansas City area. The organization serves some 300-400 households a month.
CAC's funding has been a subject of controversy and concern at several public hearings on the budget.
The organization will receive $180,000, including $15,000 that must be earmarked for certain services - in other words, it cannot be used for operating expenses such as salaries.
Last year, CAC received some $240,000.
The picture is not as bleak as it might have been. At zero hour, Councilman John Sharp was able to drive home a request for $63,0000 more than CAC was originally slated to receive.
“I’m pleased we were able to get this much more, but I’m still regretful CAC had to take a cut,” Sharp said. “We had less CDBG money this year and more applications.”
Sharp said he and Councilwoman Cathy Jolly’s efforts to secure more funding had a boost – the people of South Kansas City who spoke out at public hearings.
“The fact that so many people came out to support the program was a tremendous help,” he said.
Sharp called it "outrageous" that city staff had originally recommended zero funding for the organization.
Owsley said the organization is trying to take a pragmatic approach to the funding loss.
That includes seeking in-kind donation of things like office supplies, as well as seeking private donations and grants.
“The bottom line is, the services we provide are desperately needed in this community,” Owsley said. “If we don’t have staff to provide those services, it makes it very difficult to get clients the help they need.”
She echoed Sharp’s comments about the importance of public support.
“We have been grateful for the support we have gotten, not only from our City Council representatives but from the community and the clients we serve.”
Some 40 people showed up to speak at a budget hearing at Hillcrest Community Center on March 3, and Owsley said she has almost 200 letters of support.
“We help people who are struggling financially,” Owsley said. “But we’re going through the same (funding) problems everyone else is.”
Sharp said the Community Development Block Grant fund disbursements won’t be official until the City Council approves the entire budget, but he does not expect the financial picture to change before then.