Thursday’s editorial discusses one way the federal budget spat this year has come back to haunt us here:
It’s often hard to see what practical effects national or state policy fights have on the local level, but Horry County charities got a firsthand view this year.
As Congress dithered and fussed over the national budget this year, culminating in the April showdown that threatened to shutter the federal government, local charities waited increasingly desperately for word on the funding they’d receive. Why? Caught up in the drawn out negotiations was the budget for the Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program, an initiative established in 1983 to provide money to groups around the nation for food, rent and utility assistance.
The money is given to counties each year according to need and according to how much money Congress apportions. Horry County has received a varying amount over the years, from $59,000 in 1999 to more than $300,000 in 2009. Local coordinator Gail Steinfield of Churches Assisting People helps to divvy up the money among Horry County charities when it reaches the area, usually around February. But “this year, the House of Representatives was doing this budget thing, and all they did was fight, fight, fight,” Steinfield said. Though the budget was passed in April with $120 million in EFSP funds – “cut in half” from previous years, Steinfield said – local groups are still waiting until later this month to see how much of that will trickle down to Horry County. It’s already too late for at least one agency.
In past years, Help4Kids has received about $15,000 in EFSP funds to help feed children out of school for the summer. The organization, headed by Barb Mains, used the money to fire up a grill and provide hot meals and activities for needy kids. Without the money this year, Mains and volunteers from her group have been making hundreds of bologna and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from their own pantries and delivering them to kids. “We lost all that money,” Mains said, “so we just made Plan B; all our volunteers are making sandwiches.” That remarkable effort and show of generosity by the group means 400-600 kids a week are getting a meal they otherwise would have skipped.
Stories like Mains’ have Steinfield frustrated. Speaking of federal legislators, she said, “I don’t think these people really understand that that little bit of a grant – I mean, that’s nothing, you want to cut that? – it’s the difference between a child having lunch or not. … It’s actually taking food out of people’s mouths.”
And it’s not just Help4Kids. Other organizations such as the Helping Hand groups, CASA, Horry County Council on Aging, Street Reach and The Haven also rely at least partly on this federal funding, Steinfield said.
If the funding doesn’t arrive soon, “by the middle of the summer there’s going to be a lot of people sitting in the dark and homeless,” Mains said.
Wherever your sympathies lie in the ongoing budget debates, if you’re for cutting foreign aid or new missile systems, if you think U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to remake the Medicare system is brilliant or baloney, it’s hard to argue that it’s not in the nation’s interest to feed its children and to do so without delay. Surely we can all agree on that point.
“It’s really sad if you think about it,” Mains said. Next year, we hope a few more lawmakers do just that.
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