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What's Up Magazine

What Do You Think? Former Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer Discusses Public Funding of Social Services

Jan 12, 2016 10:22AM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Ellen Moyer // Photo by Tony Lewis Jr.

In the spring of 2015, four Republican County Councilmen introduced legislation to phase out grant funding to community nonprofits. Within two years, 53 social service programs that support shelters, treatment, and education programs addressing needs of the abused, poor, and afflicted will be abandoned by County funding.

In a gesture of father-knows-best, the Councilmen introduced this legislation under a mask of protecting the public from “favoritism and conflict of interest.” In the words of one sponsor, the grants program, as a matter of principle, was involved in things that government shouldn’t be involved in, as “just another government give away.”

These words echoed the 1970s attack on the War on Poverty, the 1964 keystone program of President Lyndon B. Johnson to “relieve not only symptoms of poverty, but to cure it and above all prevent it.” In 1959, America’s poverty was at an all-time high (until today) and Johnson’s vision of the Great Society for our Nation would utilize federal dollars to elevate education and health care, as poverty reduction strategies.

The Economic Opportunity Act passed in 1964 inaugurated programs such as Head Start, Job Corp, Volunteers in Service to America, Food Stamps, Community Action Agency, Medicare, and Medicaid. In the decade that followed, there was a dramatic decline in poverty rates to the lowest level ever of 11 percent with 22.4 million Americans in crisis.

However, the War on Poverty programs attended to where poverty most existed within urban minorities. As the growth in income following World War II began to slow down, a backlash began in the middle class, which became resentful of “footing the bill for services to the undeserving poor, able bodied unemployed men and women.”

Federal dollars for the social service programs to stamp out poverty were reduced and poverty continued its climb from the Nixon years to over 48 million and 16 percent by 2011. Inadequate resources could not keep up with escalating homelessness, single parent families, drug addiction, and domestic abuse, all causes of and results of poverty.

The action of the County Council continues this trend by eliminating one tenth of one percent of the County’s budget, or $1.4 million, committed to social service nonprofit programs that address human needs not met by government agencies.

While there are many nonprofits funded in a variety of ways (through foundations, memberships, fees, or corporate sponsors), social service programs are most dependent on government grants. In many cases Federal and State grants require a local match or contribution. Without local grant support, some nonprofits that serve the public good will just have to shut their doors. The County Council’s action to close off grants to 53 private programs in the County is in line with national political action, and poverty in America is growing.

So who picks up the slack? You and your tax dollars? Can we afford to ignore homelessness, domestic violence, drug addiction? Do you really believe churches, charitable giving, and volunteers can entirely fund the needs? What are the future effects of increasing poverty and its climate of hopelessness and despair? What is government’s responsibility in problem solving to serve the needs of all citizens?

Is getting people out of poverty one of the most cost effective public investments? Should one tenth of one percent of the County budget grant program be reinstated?

What do you think and why?

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