Sequestration’s cost

FI-EditorialThis coming Monday, Greenwich’s Community Development Advisory Committee will hold a public hearing about money going to local social services agencies, but the truth is no matter how much is given, it won’t be enough.

The twin realities of shrinking federal dollars and growing demand combine to form a grim reality where agencies that need help aren’t able to get it and what help is given is only a portion of what was requested. For years the Community Development Block Grant (CDGB) program has helped Greenwich residents in need of vital services like food banks, homeless shelters and domestic abuse aid. This Monday some groups will be able to get some of that vital (CDGB) money and they’ll be happy to get it, but it won’t change the fact that more is needed.

As more and more of an income disparity occurs in this country, the demand is stronger for less money to help these badly needed social services groups. Greenwich doesn’t suffer as much, but it’s not immune either. Consider that of requests for $1.6 million from groups throughout town and the nearby area, only $680,000 will actually be given out.

And what’s most concerning is that the $680,000 isn’t even guaranteed. These are only projected allocations and Greenwich’s Community Development Department is at the mercy of congressional action from Washington, a very precarious position to be in thanks to the still rabid fever among some members of Congress to cut without consideration and the still very much active cuts forced upon us by sequestration.

Remember sequestration? The “poison pill” of across-the-board spending cuts that was supposed to force Republicans and Democrats to come to the table on a spending deal? Well, we swallowed the pill and no one in congressional leadership is really doing much to stop it. Because, after all, in the minds of some, particularly congressional Tea Party Republicans, cutting federal spending is all good with no consequences.

A few weeks back, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) came to town to highlight a Head Start pre-school here that depends on federal dollars. But it was like this visit and others designed to show the problem occurred in a vacuum.

None of the damage to social services has broken through to the national conversation, not like when sequestration seemed to threaten people with the hardship of longer waits at airports. When that was the case, Congress leapt right into action. But when social services programs for the poor are in trouble, no one seems to have the time in the congressional leadership to do anything about it.

And that’s sadly typical in this country. We’re mainly focused on not being inconvenienced in any way. For most residents in Greenwich, cuts like these are out of sight and out of mind. Most of the people here don’t have to deal with the daily consequences of less money for food banks or shelters or mental health for kids.

Well, this is another reminder that this kind of foolishness in Congress does have an impact and that it hits hardest the people who need help the most.

Now this is not the fault of Greenwich leaders. No one has heard much from the Greenwich/Stamford Tea Party Patriots lately. Rather than indulging in right wing extremism, Greenwich had long been a home of a version of the Republican Party that knows government does have a role in making life better and that providing a safety net to those most vulnerable is as important as fighting for clean air, safe roads and education.

But Greenwich can have a lot of say in the future of the Republican Party, especially with 2014 tantalizingly close and 2016 just starting to ever so slightly peek over the horizon. When town leaders say, “We wish there was more money for block grants” they need to look to their own party for a reason why there’s not.

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