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Officials, nonprofits brace for federal grant cuts (UPDATED)

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- City officials told people affiliated with various nonprofit agencies from around the community Thursday that they are bracing for cuts to their federal programs, many of which help fund the agencies.

Organized by students from Albany State University's Division of History and Political Science, the meeting Thursday allowed those involved with the city's Community and Economic Development Department and local nonprofits that benefit from the federal funding it disperses to meet in a forum and plead with congressional leadership to avoid hacking away at federal programs meant to help the poor and impoverished.

To that end, the group has created an online petition to send to U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, and Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, and Johnny Isakson, R-Atlanta, urging them to deliberate before slashing the funding for various programs.

Latoya Cutts, the director of the city's CED department, said she's received word from several federal agencies to expect various levels of cuts ranging from zero to as high as 70 percent.

According to Cutts, the city receives roughly $1.2 million each year in Community Development Block Grant funding from the federal government, while generating nearly $2 million in residual income through items like rent from past projects completed with CDBG funding.

But the fact now is that Cutts, and others like her in cities across the country, are in the dark as to exactly how much funding will be cut, an increasingly bad position to be in given that Cutts is working to put together a budget with looming deadlines.

"How do you create a budget when you don't know how much funding is available? That's one of the challenges we're facing," Cutts told the group.

Officials from Liberty House, the Lily Pad, Open Arms and the Family Literacy Council each spoke of the importance of CDBG grants to their various agencies.

Rosalynn Figgins of Open Arms said that funding that the agency receives from the federal government through Community and Economic Development is vital to helping it serve abused and neglected children and teens, saying that if that funding dries up, it could have a dramatic impact on the agency's ability to serve the community.

At Liberty House, which provides help to abused men and women, Nina Singleton said that a cut in funding would mean layoffs for the agency's staff and a reduction in services to the 600 or so clients they've provided service to over the last six months.

The nonprofits have become part of the face of the budget struggle going on in Washington.

Bolstered by mid-term elections that saw an influx of anti-spending tea party members into the House of Representatives, even moderate Republicans are feeling pressure from constituents to slash the federal budget, curtail domestic spending and take meaningful steps to reduce a rising deficit.

But with Democrats still clinging to a thin majority in the Senate, the budgetary tug-of-war is delaying the implementation of a new spending plan; pushing local governments and others that receive federal funding ever closer to their own budget deadlines without any clear indication of what funding levels to expect.

In the last five years, Cutts said, nearly 4,000 people have been assisted locally through programs funded by CDBG grants, 758 jobs have been created or retained, and more than $900,000 has been spent on public service projects like roadwork, sidewalk improvements and sewer extensions in targeted low-income neighborhoods.

Another $2 million has been spent on housing activities, she said.