Nonprofits, social services in higher demand as budget cuts loom

by Michelle Saxton
Thursday, November 18, 2010

More New Hanover County residents are seeking food stamps, health insurance through Medicaid or Health Choice and temporary financial assistance for rent or utility bills, a county Department of Social Services official has said.

"We’ve seen a steady increase in our service demands," Christine McNamee, assistant director of economic services and business systems, said Tuesday, Nov. 16.

"And what we’re seeing are a lot of people who in the past were able to be self-sufficient who aren’t anymore."

That includes the self-employed, Realtors and restaurant industry workers, McNamee said.

Requests for Food and Nutrition Services assistance in New Hanover County have climbed about 27 percent from September 2009 to September 2010, she said.

About 30,580 people in New Hanover County–16 percent of the county’s population–lived in poverty in 2009, according to the North Carolina Justice Center, which recently released an overview of the state budget and economy with the United Way of North Carolina.

Demand for nonprofit services has risen 62 percent over the year statewide, and North Carolina’s population has grown by about 315,000 residents during the recession, the overview showed.

It also indicated that state grants to nonprofits fell more than 25 percent during the 2009-2010 year, and that nonprofits cut back services to North Carolinians by 13 percent.

"Nonprofits are trying to provide that safety net of services," Jill Cox, government relations director for the United Way of North Carolina, said Tuesday.

As nonprofit partners continue feeling the pinch with funding and staff, that will put a greater demand on social services to fill the gaps, McNamee said.

"If nonprofits continue to see a decline, we’re going to be more and more stretched," she added, particularly as employment freezes and furloughs occur.

Simplifying regulations to make administering programs easier, rearranging staff more toward direct services and examining new uses for technology are among ways state and county officials are working to meet those challenges, McNamee said.

The United Way and the Justice Center develop annual legislative briefings and present the information to communities throughout the state in a series of roadshows.

This year’s series included an event in Wilmington on Monday, Nov. 15, and was expected to wrap up in Raleigh in January, Cox said.

Budget experts and state lawmakers predict the North Carolina General Assembly, which meets next year to balance the $19 billion state budget, will have to make an estimated $3.5 billion in cuts.

North Carolina’s economic recovery depends on investments in immediate public supports that struggling working families need, as well as long-term structures in education and health care, Alexandra Sirota, director of the Justice Center’s state Budget and Tax Center, said Tuesday.

"All these supports (are) helping families make ends meet and hopefully get back into the work force," Sirota said.

Cox recommended lawmakers take a similarly balanced approach as they did with the last budget in looking at cuts and find ways to modernize how revenue is collected.

"Consider nonprofits as a solution," Cox added.

For instance, every dollar invested in quality, affordable child care or early education can save at least $7 in the long run by helping children become literate and employed and less likely to drop out of school, depend on welfare or be arrested, the overview said.

Meanwhile, no life jacket in federal aid from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will come this time, Cox said.

"It’s not a rosy picture," Cox said. "But there are opportunities, still, if we’re wise and make good choices."

For more information, visit:

New Hanover County Department of Social Services:
www.nhcgov.com

N.C. Justice Center:
www.ncjustice.org

United Way of North Carolina:
www.unitedwaync.org

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