Op-Ed

Community Action upholds U.S. value of care for needy

America is supposed to be different. It's the place where doing everything right should result at least in economic security — the ability to put a roof over your head and food on the family's table. And even if you've tripped up along the way, this has always been a country that offers second chances.

Over the past 45 years, Community Action agencies have helped tens of millions of people find work, keep their heat on in the winter, get their children ready for kindergarten and so much more. They have been the trusted, results-driven partner between government and the private sector to keep America's promise alive for everyone.

All of that comes to a crashing halt if leadership in Washington, D.C., is successful in its current plans to kill these activities.

President Barack Obama's budget for the next federal fiscal year would cut in half the money available to operate these agencies and would also cut deeply into energy assistance funding.

A Republican proposal in the House of Representatives goes even further — annihilating anything that helps people in need. The GOP proposal to fund the U.S. government after March 4 would shut down — overnight — all Community Action agencies, energy assistance and volunteer programs including AmeriCorps and Foster Grandparents. It would include drastic cuts to other programs that help provide jobs for low-income people and work toward a common good.

Community Action Council for Lexington-Fayette, Bourbon, Harrison and Nicholas counties uses these funds to serve more than 34,000 individuals each year. The council serves the homeless, veterans, seniors, displaced workers, families and children, single parents and anyone who finds themselves in a tight spot. These are not deadbeats and "welfare queens." These are your grandparents and neighbors. They are the people who served you breakfast or cleaned your hotel room.

Set aside myths and stereotypes for a moment. Among 34,000 people there is likely someone you know or someone from your own family. You might be sitting near one of them right now, watching them refill your coffee.

Many of us have needed a hand up at times and some of us will need it yet. Up until now, America has said it's important to ensure that economic security is there for everyone who needs it, when they need it. Current federal budget proposals make all of us insecure.

If Community Action were gone tomorrow, it would affect dozens of other programs and organizations. It also would mean Lexington and Central Kentucky are likely to lose $20 million in additional federal, state and private funds that are brought into the community each year by the council, as many of those require the Community Action agency to pay their operational costs.

You will notice if Community Action is gone. The organization is a quiet innovator and incubator of programming having created and spun off well-known organizations and programs like God's Pantry, Wheels and Community Ventures.

More importantly, the following are highlights from among 18 pages of 2009-2010 outcomes produced by Community Action Council:

■ Emergency assistance, such as help with utilities, for about 19,000 households;

■ Child development for 1,900 children ages birth to three;

■ Food assistance and referrals to God's Pantry and other resources for 7,000 families;

■ Income tax assistance for at least 900 households receiving $1.4 million in refunded money which is returned to the Central Kentucky economy.

■ Home weatherization programs to help reduce rising energy bills for more than 200 homes;

■ 11,500 trips for elderly and handicapped persons to shopping and medical appointments.

Imagine a community where this and more have disappeared overnight.

It's hard to stomach this as a new reality when the nation is still scarred by recession. Federal belt-tightening is important and no one is arguing here that it's not. But if the country can find room for hundreds of billions on military spending, foreign aid and even high speed rail then surely we can find room for our most vulnerable.

If you've ever considered political engagement, now is the time. Visit www.capworks.org for more information about Community Action nationwide and what you can do. To learn more about the Community Action Council visit www.commaction.org.

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