‘A pretty dark future’
by Daniel Gaddy
Mar 29, 2011 | 3623 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
According to documents obtained by a state-wide fact-checking website, some of the hundreds of cuts to legislative earmarks announced by Gov. Robert Bentley would hit several agencies in the area — including $100,000 lost for a food program in Winston County.

In an investigation into Bentley’s State of the State address, reporters with Bama Fact Check, a partnership of statewide news agencies, received budget documents that eliminated more than 200 earmarks to various municipalities, programs and agencies in the state. During the address, Bentley said the cuts would save state taxpayers $33 million.

More than $5 million of the cuts are to the budgets of legislative committees and offices. However, many of the cuts are to programs like community action agencies, community service grants and health programs.

Among the eliminated line items is a $100,000-earmark to a food program for low-income families in Winston County. The service has been administered by Marion-Winston Community Action since 1965.

Jeff Fleming, the executive director of Community Action, said the program provides more than 1,000 bags of groceries a month to residents of Winston and Marion counties who are in need.

Fleming said the state funds nixed in the budget make up all of the money used for the program.

“It’s very possible what were looking at may completely eliminate that program,” he said.

Fleming said his organization will look for other grants to fund the service, but added “I don’t know if that is a practical strategy.”

The governor’s recommended budget also cuts $792,000 of state funds to a network of community action agencies in Alabama, which provides assistance to low-income families for utility bills and job-seeking resources.

Deidre Tatum, executive director of the Walker County Community Action Agency, said that number equates to about 80 percent of the network’s state funding and will mean about $8,000 of money lost to her agency.

Tatum said that will reduce the support the agency provides to low-income families for water bills and cut funding for the reading, math and basketball camps for children the agency sponsors. She also said the organization had planned to create a program to offer matching funds for first-time, low-income home buyers, but “that possibility is now gone.”

Tatum said the federal funding cuts announced by President Obama and Republican leaders in Congress far outweigh the the state earmarks to community action agencies, however.

In February, Obama suggested cuts of $350 million to the national network of community action agencies, which represents around half of the organization’s federal funding. In a preview announced by the House Appropriation Committee, Republicans wanted to reduce the funding by $405 million.

Tatum said $350 million to the national network’s funding would represent $100,000 — or half of her agency’s funding.

State Sen. Greg Reed (R-Jasper) chairs the Senate Health Committee, one of the 17 committees receiving cuts of $31,500. He said the eliminated earmarks are part of an overall effort in the legislature to reduce its costs to the taxpayer.

Reed said that, given the severe economic situation facing the state, he supports the cuts. “I’m personally committed to do whatever I can to reduce state money spent in conducting business in the Alabama Senate,” he said.

Efforts by the Eagle to reach Bentley were unsuccessful.

Also among the line item cuts is a $44,000 earmark for the Beacon House, a local center for troubled teenagers. Director Ronnie Sandlin said his organization also faces a reduction in state funding and decreases in Medicaid reimbursement for its patients.

“We just don’t know if we will be able to meet the needs (of the area),” he said.

Sandlin added that it would be a “pretty dark future for Beacon House” if the group did not receive the $44,000 to help make up some of the losses.

The legislative cuts also include $44,000 of funds to the Pastime Theater in Winfield.

Other cuts include the following:

•$279,200 to a program providing Hepatitis B vaccinations to children.

•$3.5 million to community service grants.

•$316,000 to a program promoting early detection of breast and cervical cancer.

•$75,000 to senior resource centers for Area Agencies for Aging.

•$50,000 to the Disabled Veterans Organization.

•$25,000 to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

The governor’s proposed budget also includes 28 line item cuts to cities and county commissions as well as to museums and programs like $10,000 for the city of Cullman’s Oktoberfest or $465,000 for an initiative to promote bicycle safety.

For a complete list of the line item cuts, log on to www.bamafactcheck.com and click on the article entitled, “Bentley’s eliminated ‘line items’ save state $33 million.”