Cutting into the bone

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One of my least favorite things to do after Thanksgiving dinner is carving all the uneaten meat off the carcass of the turkey. I leave this task to my husband. And every year, it’s the same old thing. I tell him to cut off all the greasy, fatty parts, and then I tell him there is more meat to cut and then he tells me he is cutting into the bone. Well, that is exactly the same situation with the Allegheny County Budget.

For years, County Executive Dan Onorato has done a good job in cutting the fat, or waste, out of county government. But a year or two ago, as revenues decreased and expenses continued to rise, we began cutting into the meat of some programs. This year, the proposed 2012 county budget actually cuts into the bone.

Dan Onorato’s final budget as county executive keeps taxes flat but cuts $37 million worth of bone out of our budget. $22 million is directly cut from children and family services from the Department of Human Services. But here is the kicker—only $5 million of the $22 million is actually county tax dollars. By cutting $5 million local dollars we are giving up $17 million in matching funds from the State. Once gone, forever lost.

These funds help support some of our county’s most successful prevention programs for at-risk children and families. Our 26 family support centers that teach parenting skills, infant and child screening and assessments, prenatal support, career readiness, computer access and literacy programs, could be lost. So too could the hundreds of after school and out of school programs that help our most disadvantaged youth find their way and achieve academic success be lost. If we lose these programs, we run the risk of higher costs for mandated programs like incarceration. We all know how expensive and ineffective our jail system is.

The bone cutting doesn’t end with the county and the Department of Human Services. The bone cutting will impact dozens of high achieving nonprofit organizations who provide many of these preventative services. Organizations like the Hill House, Kingsley, Gwen’s Girls, Schenley Heights Development Corporation and the Urban League could see cuts or program closures.

And of course the bone cutting could impact individual workers. 1,000 jobs in the nonprofit sector could be lost if the $22 million isn’t restored to the county budget—of course we really only need $5 million in county funds.

Finally, and most importantly, the ultimate cutting into the bone will be with the children and families who rely on these services. How can a mother, working a minimum wage job who cannot afford to take off because there are no afterschool programs, or a family working in the food service industry survive without support from our family support centers? They just might not.

I urge County Council to restore the $5 million so that we can get the $17 million from the State and not have to cut into the bone of children and family services.

(Doris Carson Williams is president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce.)

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