By Katrina Bostick
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, United Way partner agencies have been working tirelessly to respond to the urgent and rapidly changing needs of our community.
Now, as the State of Georgia proposes across-the-board budget cuts, local nonprofit agencies may lose substantial funding, putting these vital services – and our community’s most vulnerable citizens – at risk. At a time of unprecedented hardship, budget cuts of this magnitude will be devastating. On behalf of our United Way of the Coastal Empire’s Agency Executive Council, I strongly urge our state legislators to oppose cuts to these services needed now more than ever.
Our youngest children may lose their best chance for a quality, early childhood learning experience that prepares them for success in school and life. Proposed cuts may mean the loss of 4,000 Pre-K slots statewide, according to the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students. Tammy Mixon-Calderon, Executive Director of Wesley Community Centers, shares that two classrooms at The Lady Bamford Center, serving a West Savannah neighborhood, may lose $75,000 a year each, challenging the organization’s ability to offer Pre-K in the future.
Patti Lyons, Executive Director for Senior Citizens, Inc., notes that at a time when our senior population is steadily growing, budget cuts will mean fewer people can be served. More homebound, older adults will go hungry; fewer adults with Alzheimer’s will be able to participate in day programs that enable them to live at home instead of in nursing homes; and more seniors will be vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and exploitation when advocacy services are scaled back.
Budget cuts will also make it harder for people with disabilities to live and work independently in the community. The Savannah Center for Blind and Low Vision helps vision-impaired clients with modifications, training, and adaptive equipment so they can live safely at home and re-enter the workforce. Executive Director Lois Modell reports that cuts will result in dramatically longer wait lists, with disproportionate impact on senior clients. The Matthew Reardon Center for Autism, which provides specialized education for students with autism and an inclusion pre-school program for typically developing and autistic students, relies on state funding for more than half of its operating budget. Executive Director Patti Victor fears that cuts as proposed will threaten the organization’s very survival.
Reductions to Family Violence Grants through the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council will impact survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and abuse, who are experiencing violence at greater rates during the pandemic.
We know that true recovery will take months, if not years. While there is no doubt that the state is experiencing sharp declines in revenues, we ask that our lawmakers work with the nonprofit social services community to determine ways forward to lessen the negative impacts. For example, we know some of the proposed cuts will not help balance the budget – Georgia Pre K is funded by constitutionally dedicated Lottery dollars, which have not decreased during the pandemic. Nonprofit advocates like the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute have also identified alternative revenue options, which, if enacted, would could lessen the impact of these cuts or even render them unnecessary. The long-term costs of losing these programs is far greater than the savings today.
Katrina Bostick is chair of the United Way of the Coastal Empire Agency Executive Council.