Posts Tagged ‘funding’

By Erin Grace


A federal program that helps fund emergency shelters and food pantries has been slashed, resulting in major cuts to states like Nebraska and Iowa that have relatively low unemployment rates. The National Emergency Food & Shelter Board Program took a 40 percent hit nationally. That led to cuts in local grants. News of the cuts, which hit this week, will force Omaha-area homeless shelters and agencies that serve the poor to make up the difference.

“Fundraising’s not going gangbusters this time of the year,” said Mike Saklar, who runs Omaha’s largest shelter, the Siena-Francis House at 1702 Nicholas St. “With the economy and uncertainty, it’s going to be hard to replace money like that.” Saklar’s shelter stands to lose about $40,000 from Douglas County’s loss of direct funds, but could see some of that trickle back through the overall state pool for the program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

For the first time in anyone’s recollection, Douglas County is getting zero direct FEMA homeless dollars, down from $205,000 last year. The county will be able to compete for some dollars from the state pool. Nebraska is slated to get about $250,000, with about $10,000 earmarked for Scotts Bluff County. That’s the lowest amount Nebraska has received since 1996 and less than half of what it got last year. Funds can be used for food, shelter, rent or mortgage payments, utility bills and repairs to shelters.

The same scenario is playing out in Iowa, where its largest county, Polk, home to Des Moines, got zero direct FEMA homeless dollars and had to compete with the rest of the state for its state pool. David Dischler, who runs the Des Moines-based Iowa Institute for Community Alliances and sits on the state set-aside committee, said two-thirds of Iowa’s 99 counties won’t get FEMA funding and that Des Moines will take a 70 percent hit. He said that will force his agency, which acts as the bank in doling out the FEMA dollars, to “throw some grantees off the bus.”

Dischler has worked with this federal program since its inception in 1983 as part of a federal jobs stimulus bill. He said the program was started to address what was then seen as an emergency-only issue, homelessness. That’s how it became part of FEMA. But as years went on, he said, homelessness was seen as a more pervasive, complex problem and one that affected not just down-and-out men with substance abuse or mental health problems but women, children and families. Dischler said it’s one of the easier federal grant programs to run and therefore helps a lot of smaller nonprofits with little budget for overhead. But this year, federal funding for the program was cut from $200 million in 2010 to about $120 million. It could be a sign of what’s to come in an era of federal belt-tightening.

Criteria for the FEMA homeless funds have always included poverty and unemployment rates. This year, local communities receiving direct funding had to match or exceed an 11.5 percent unemployment rate and a 14.4 percent poverty rate. Douglas County’s rates were 5.1 percent unemployment and 9.8 percent poverty. Theresa Christensen of the Salvation Army in Omaha said that charity faces a loss of nearly $13,000, half of which went to food. “Almost $7,000 worth of food is a lot of food,” said Christensen, homeless and behavioral health services director. “Our food pantry (visits) are up 25 percent, and like everybody, we’re struggling to keep up with the need.”

Reprinted with permission