Social services impacted by city budget

The new budget would cause a cut in some standing programs.
The Rainbow House provides a temporary place for children to stay in crisis, such as those displaced from their homes or in challenging family situations.

City Manager Bill Watkins' recommended budget for next year might do more than close the $2 million budget gap. If the budget, which includes a 5 percent decrease in spending from this year for social services, is passed, many charitable organizations will be impacted.

Marcia Walker, executive director for Meals on Wheels of Columbia, said this organization would be affected if the budget passes.

"If the city cuts by 5 percent, I get a $5,000 cut," she said.

Walker estimates it would translate into 1,000 to 1,500 meals that couldn't be served to some of the community's most needy members.

Meals on Wheels is not the only organization affected. The Salvation Army doesn't just ring bells outside of grocery stores during Christmas time; they provide much needed services to struggling people throughout the year.

"We will be impacted in a negative way," said Kendall Mathews, Salvation Army regional coordinator. "If we receive those cuts, we'll be able to serve less, house less and feed less people."

Salvation Army has been receiving around $7,000 a year from the city, but would only receive $3,500 for next year.

Social service organizations continue to see a trend: People need more help.

"Our numbers have gone up 7 to 10 percent. We've seen (increased need) in clothing vouchers and food assistance, rent and utilities," Mathews said.

Other social services, according to the Boone County Community Services Advisory Commission's recommendations, would see large cuts if budget plans are passed.

The MU Adult Day Connection's adult day care received $30,000 from the city this year. It will receive $15,907 for next year. The service provides day health care services for adults with disabling conditions.

"It will devastate families who will not be able to attend our program because the funding isn't there," director Amy Byergo said.

The program subsidizes some or all of the cost for families who cannot afford the program's services. Its policy is to not turn anyone away based on ability to pay.

"Our numbers are growing," Byergo said. "But it doesn't count for the impact on families."

She explained the program allows family members to work, when they might otherwise have to take care of a disabled relative.

Rainbow House, an organization that includes the Children's Emergency Shelter, Regional Child Advocacy Center and Transitional Living Program, had to let go six employees.

Rainbow House can only serve half the number of children now and has recently had to turn away 25 children.

Rainbow House Executive Director Jan Stock said though the program will lose funds from the city, it wouldn't be as devastating as for other organizations.

"It's a very small amount based on the large budget," she said. "If we had that money, we could put it to good use."

The cutback does limit the capabilities of the program as well as others. Watkins said they are working to conserve funds in order to lessen the budget shortfall.

"We will continue to find savings and efficiencies so that when economic conditions turn around in earnest, we'll have the ability to respond to pent-up demands," Watkins said in his recommended budget.

Although budget cuts are being made, the city plans on spending more than $200,000 on new sidewalks. Money for the sidewalks would come from the city's Capital Improvement Program.

"I understand that we need new sidewalks,” Walker said. “I think people would rather be fed than have new sidewalks.”

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