Dr. James Gatling: Budget would harm low income earners

CAFCA | March 04, 2015 |

 Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's recent proposal to eliminate funding for the Human Services Infrastructure Program may cancel one of the most efficient and effective initiatives available to Connecticut's low-income residents.

The program provides core funding for community-action agencies, such as New Opportunities Inc. The proposed elimination of $3.4 million would cancel $2 million worth of matching federal funds and fully defund this service delivery system, which provides clients with programs that help then achieve self-sufficient lives.

Regionally, these cuts would force closure of New Opportunities Family Development offices in Waterbury, Greater Meriden and Torrington. These closings would prevent more than 51,000 people from locally accessing services, such as fuel and housing assistance, early-childhood education, family-development and employment/training programs, elder services and health coverage opportunities.

Other programs affected would include eviction and foreclosure prevention services, benefit accessing services, emergency food assistance, and rapid-re-housing programs. Agency services at American Job Center offices in Waterbury and Torrington, which administer fuel and housing assistance, would be eliminated, along with many services specifically designed for unemployed and dislocated workers, and veterans.

The proposed cuts would force New Opportunities to close its bilingual certified nurse assistant and business office technology training programs; the Meriden Summer Food Program; our popular Summer Camp Program for inner-city youth; and the free, volunteer tax-preparation service. The tax program alone enabled applicants to receive federal refunds totaling more than $2.3 million last year.

The economy's unrelenting sluggishness has produced record first-time enrollments in almost every program offered by the state's Community Action Agency Network. Fixed-income seniors, working poor, single parent households and unemployed college graduates represent some of the fastest-growing segments of those now living in poverty's shadow.

I believe few programs in the governor's two-year, $40 billion budget can match the community returns or financial dividends provided by the Human Service Infrastructure Program. This historically successful, low budget line item has earned its place in the state budget.

James H. Gatling is CEO and president of New Opportunities Inc., a statewide agency serving about 62,000 people. It is headquartered in Waterbury.