Nonprofits dread Prince William's proposed funding cuts

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 4, 2010

It is the daily tasks, such as getting out of bed or using the bathroom, that 6-year-old Malinda May struggles with.

Born prematurely, Malinda suffers from several health problems. She has had her left foot amputated and relies on breathing and feeding tubes. She stays in the basement of her family's Prince William County home, where her father must carry her from one room to another, because the hallways and doors are too narrow to maneuver her wheelchair through.

But that is all about to change, thanks to Project Mend-A-House, which is completing $3,000 worth of basement and bathroom alterations that will give Malinda some independence.

"This will let her move around more, and the basement is perfect for her now," said Malinda's father, Someth May. "They are doing a really great job."

Although the Mays received a life-altering home renovation, others in the county might not. Proposed county budget cuts threaten Project Mend-A-House and the rest of the nonprofit groups and community organizations that aid Prince William area residents.

"Funding is always a struggle, and every year you hope you will make your budget," Project Mend-A-House Director Andrea Saccoccia said, noting that she was bracing for a $5,200 cut from the county. "It is already going to be a challenging year, and now we have to think of the [thousands] we might not get from the county."

Saccoccia is one of several people who plan to speak Monday at the county's 7:30 p.m. public hearing on the budget at the James J. McCoart Administration Building, 1 County Complex Ct., Woodbridge. County Executive Melissa S. Peacor proposed in her budget to cut 15 percent from each nonprofit or community organization Prince William supports to save about $300,000 in fiscal 2011. The budget would preserve $1.7 million for the 19 organizations.

Although a 15 percent cut might seem small, nonprofit officials said, it's not to groups that thrive off community support. In many cases, they said, they need county funding not only to support programs but also to leverage state and federal grants and recruit volunteers.

Nonprofit officials said that although county funding had remained fairly constant, demand for services is on the rise, which makes the potential cuts more painful.

Frances Harris, executive director of Action in Community Through Service, said the number of requests for assistance her organization received rose 38 percent in the past year, with the group providing food and financial support to more than 42,000 people. Harris said ACTS also is turning away about 200 people seeking shelter a month.

Harris said the proposed $84,000 loss in county funds for ACTS is equivalent to shutting down the shelter for a month, though the agency probably would not do that. Instead, she said, cuts would probably be spread across the organization, affecting the three shelters (two for battered women), the crisis hotline and the emergency assistance program, which provides food and financial support.

"A cut in funding will impact some of the highest-risk [people] in the community," Harris said, noting that ACTS is the only county nonprofit group that works directly with domestic violence victims. "I understand there are only so many resources, but the people we help, like the homeless, the victims of domestic violence . . . that's a major public safety concern."

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