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Will Obama Budget Cause More Pain for Hurting Arizonans?


Tuesday, February 15, 2011   

PHOENIX - President Obama's budget proposal would halve federal funding for community-action programs. Managers of the agencies which administer those funds in Arizona say such a drastic cut will cripple efforts to provide critical assistance for thousands of families struggling to survive.

With the rough economy and high unemployment, many Arizona families remain at risk of losing their housing or even their ability to put food on the table. Malissa Buzan, Gila County Community Action manager, says the programs may represent the last hope for those families to return to self-sufficiency.

"Sometimes it's just emergencies. They've been on unemployment, just reaching the end of their rope, and we help them with an emergency assistance - utilities or rent or mortgage assistance. But the long-term goal is to stabilize the family so that they don't have to come back into our doors."

Arizona's 10 community-action programs served nearly 54,000 families last year. Employment assistance and home weatherization are two areas of emphasis, Buzan says, adding that the need for community-action services in her rural county has never been greater.

"Our unemployment runs about 12 percent right now. We had three businesses close last week. That's 30 people out of work. We're hurting."

Critics of federal spending levels say private charities and churches should be taking care of the poor, the jobless and the disabled. However, Buzan says, churches and charities have been overwhelmed by the need.

"Their coffers are empty. They call me constantly for assistance. Their congregations are giving at a record rate, and still they cannot meet the demand. And frankly, neither can we, even before the cuts."

Arizona received nearly $5 million for community-action programs last year. Buzan says that money was used and leveraged to raise another $45 million from non-federal sources including the private sector.

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