APAC office may close

March 18, 2011
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Multiple proposals to curtail the federal Community Service Block Grant program could mean curtains for a local office that supports low-income JP residents with services including fuel assistance and an emergency food pantry.

JP APAC—one of 17 neighborhood offices run by the anti-poverty non-profit Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD)—might close at the end of September, if President Obama has his way, or sooner, if it is left up to Congressional Republicans, ABCD officials told the Gazette last week.

The JP office and the 16 other ABCD neighborhood satellites are largely funded by $6 million in federal Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) funding—funding that is now being targeted by federal lawmakers for deep cuts.

Congressional Republicans are looking to zero out funding for the CSBG program in the current fiscal year as part of an effort to cut $61 billion from this year’s federal budget. Obama’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2012 proposes cutting funding for the program in half, to $350 million.

If the Republican budget proposal is adopted “We have to start shutting down immediately,” said John Drew, head of ABCD, speaking to the Gazette from Washington, DC, where he was lobbying congress last week. “JP APAC will be directly hit by the cuts,” he said.

Drew also said he is extremely skeptical that ABCD will be able to keep the neighborhood programs running if Obama’s proposal is successful. Under that proposal, the $350 million remaining in the program would be rewarded as competitive grants.

“Our president, who was a community organizer, gave us up,” Drew said.

“How can you have a competitive grant for feeding the hungry?” said state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez in a recent Gazette interview.

Other ABCD programs, including its Head Start early learning program, are funded by other federal sources, and are also facing cuts. Some ABCD programming is also funded through private grants, Drew said.

But ABCD spokesperson Susan Kooperstein told the Gazette rescinding this years funding for the satellite offices would mean ABCD could not continue to pay rent on the offices or pay staff members’ salaries.

When the Gazette spoke to Drew last week, he expressed an extreme sense of urgency because the deadline for passing the current Fiscal Year 2011 budget was today, March 18. But, as of early this week, the House appeared poised to pass another continuing resolution that would keep the government funded through April 8.

US Rep. Michael Capuano said he is opposed to the cuts at a March 7 forum in JP hosted by the wards 10, 11 and 19 Democratic Committees.

Describing Republicans’ proposed cuts, including the CSBG cuts, as “obscene and wrong-minded,” he decried current federal budget proposals where targeting “the poorest people in this nation is the first thing on the table—that it’s not the extra jet or the aircraft carrier that the Navy doesn’t want.”

Capuano also said he was “disappointed” with Obama.

JP resident Nick Auerbach told the Gazette that he received resume writing help from JP APAC that landed him a job working with adults with developmental disabilities, and that he has used an ABCD program that helps low-income people apply for earned-income tax credits when filing their taxes.

“It is one of the not-to-many programs out there that offers services for people who are living below the poverty line,” he said.

ABCD would almost certainly be able to continue to offer at least some services if the CSBG funding disappears, Drew said, but the neighborhoods are the “heart and soul” of the organization.

“It may sound kind of trite, but I think that convenience is a major factor for people” utilizing JP APAC programs, Auerbach said. “”It is not good when people have to take a day off from their job,” to access support services, he said.

At-Large City Councilor Felix Arroyo, a JP resident, had a brief opportunity to lobby Obama on behalf of ABCD when the president visted TechBoston Academy high school in Dorchester March 8. Arroyo told the Gazette he shook Obama’s hand and the president noticed a pin Arroyo was wearing that said “Save Community Action.”

“He looked at the button. I said, ‘We need you. We need your support, Mr. President.’ He kind of smiled and said, ‘I hear you,’” Arroyo told the Gazette.

According to the ABCD web site, JP APAC directly offers or provides local residents access to: youth summer jobs; Head Start pre-kindergarten classes; holiday toy drive distribution; Earned Income Tax Credit assistance; career development and counseling; an emergency food pantry; food stamps; home buying workshops; holiday meal assistance; and translation services.

JP APAC formerly stood for JP Area Planning Action Council, but now the office is known solely by its acronym.

John Ruch contributed to this article.

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