Federal cuts hurt local charities

On New Year's Day 2010, a local man found himself without a job and unable to pay his family's water bill. Catholic Charities of Lexington was able to pay the bill and referred him to its career readiness program, Suit Yourself. There, he received a free suit and career counseling and was consequently able to find a job.

He also participated in a financial literacy program, Lasting Change, where he met weekly with a mentor to get his family's finances back on track.

Federal Emergency Food and Shelter Program funds helped make all this possible. Unfortunately, for the first time in 24 years, Fayette County has been denied EFSP funding. Without the support of individual donors to make up for these funding cuts, it is unlikely that people like this man will be able to receive the help they need this coming winter.

Congress determines the EFSP budget each year, and the national EFSP board allocates funds to each county using a formula that considers average unemployment statistics.

Regrettably, this formula does not take into account the 2008 U.S. Census data that ranked Kentucky the fifth-poorest state in the nation with 42,413 living below the poverty line in Fayette County alone.

While EFSP funding was cut across the nation by 40 percent ($80 million), Kentucky received a substantial 53 percent ($1.6 million) reduction in funding. As a result, many Kentuckians struggling to feed their families and pay their bills will be in danger of losing their homes or going without heat this winter.

Last year, Fayette County was awarded $161,435 in EFSP funding, which was divided among 11 local non-profit organizations. These funds were used for more than 250,000 meals and more than 750 nights of shelter. More than 300 families also received rent or utility assistance.

Laura Connell, Lexington Rescue Mission's director of development, told me that without private donations to make up for the loss of these funds, their organization will not be able to help people who are struggling with these basic needs.

At the conclusion of It's a Wonderful Life, there is a poignant scene where George Bailey's neighbors decide to chip in what little money they have to bail him out of a devastating financial situation. The donations add up, saving George's business and reminding him that "no one is a failure who has friends."

This holiday season, many local non-profits will be in desperate need of friends and private donations in order to keep their doors open. Please consider being a friend to a local charity this year. If you can't donate money, please contact your representatives and let them know how important EFSP funding is to our state and our county.

Local charities meet the needs of so many struggling families in our community. Let's hope that we don't have to experience what life would be like without them.