Nonprofit and city agencies who had been dreading budget cuts for months felt the first sting of the state budget crisis Tuesday at a special City Council public hearing. A long line of nonprofit advocates lamented funding reductions for programs that serve the community’s most vulnerable people.
The city manager, after consultation with three city commissions, had announced prior to the meeting his suggested grant and general fund allocations for the 96 agencies that are vying for $8.1 million in federal, state and local grant money — over $700,000 less than what was available last year. Altogether the nonprofits applied for $12 million.
City Council Chambers was filled to capacity with nonprofit staff and beneficiaries who came to plead with the council to reconsider recommended program cuts. Supporters included recovering substance abusers, teenagers in Twilite Basketball jerseys and low-income seniors who rely on food programs.
City Council has the option to reallocate some of the funding recommendations before approving them during the next council meeting this Tuesday. However, the council typically doesn’t make significant changes to the city manager’s recommendations.
City Manager Weldon Rucker and representatives from the commissions on Housing Advisory, Human Welfare, Community Actions, and the Homeless said how difficult it was to make cuts on programs that have been valuable to the community.
Mayor Tom Bates said he had to make tough decisions during his 20 years in the state Assembly but that this was the first time he had to look into the faces of those who would suffer the consequences.
“In the Assembly, budget cuts seem more academic,” he said. “To see the parade of people who came to talk about the pain they will feel from the cuts, right up close and personal, it was very tough.”
Many of the nonprofits received the same or slightly less funding than they did last year. Other programs received cuts based on need or because of poor management. The recommendations emphasized the need to maintain homeless services.
No new programs were funded other than critical homeless services and other high priority programs that requested one-time funding.
The Coalition for Alternatives in Mental Health (CAMH), which has one of the city’s oldest drop-in centers, was recommended to be cut by $13,500 from the $88,500 it received last year. According to the City Manager’s Office, the cut was recommended because the organization has been operating without a permanent director for the last two years and therefore was determined to be “unstable.”
According to CAMH Interim Director Emmitt Hutson, the cut likely will result in reduced hours of service.
Catherine Heath told the Council on Tuesday that she has been sober for over two years thanks to CAMH and challenged the city manager’s assessment of the program.
“I’ve been there every day for the last three years and I don’t see it being ‘unstable,’” she said. “I know that I am not unstable anymore because of CAMH’s drop-in center.”
Hutson said the agency has continued to function while trying to find a permanent director. He also expressed a common frustration: “When the people with mental disabilities need us the most, we’re asked to take cuts,” he said.
Other nonprofits that received significant cuts were Berkeley Youth Alternatives, a multi-service provider in central Berkeley; Berkeley Food and Housing, whose Quarter Meal Hot Dinner program was cut by nearly half, and the New Light Senior Center, which serves over 15,000 meals a year and was cut by 10 percent.