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Urban Budget Woes

Monday, March 31, 2003 at 9:36 AM

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Last fall's guarded optimism for a quick economic recovery has, in many quarters, shifted to grim resignation to a more entrenched slowdown. The news is especially bad in urban centers, where many of the state's poorest citizens are concentrated. In and around Cleveland, many advocates for the poor say recent and pending cuts to the state budget are crippling efforts keep their constituents housed, fed and working. Last week they detailed their plight before the legislative committee of city council, which is backing a push to get some of those funds restored. Ideastream's Bill Rice reports.

The message was clear, the sentiment unanimous in the city council committee room last Friday: state cuts are cutting the legs out of essential social service programs. Committee Chair Robert White opened the session on an urgent note.

Robert White: People, the fact of the matter is we don’t have any more tricks we can pull out of our sleeves. This is very real. With that in mind, I’d like to have the County Commissioner Tim McCormick come up please.

Commissioner Tim McCormick is fervent about helping the poor. He helped develop the county’s welfare to work initiative, and often extols its virtues. More than just a plan to move people off the welfare roles, McCormack considers it a bold step forward in social reform, it’s primary goal being - simply put - to end poverty. He says state lawmakers not only endorsed it, but agreed to support it financially - a promise, he says, that today rings hollow.

Tim McCormick: Those promises - those formal promises - have not only been broken, but in the most callous approach to a withdrawal of the ultimate necessities of life.

Necessities, McCormick says, like health care, a safe and warm home, childcare so parents can go to work and transportation so they can get there. One by one others took the microphone. John Corlett of the Federation of Community Planning ticked off a long list of non-cash benefits on the table for rollbacks - children’s health care, home care for seniors, - and Ohio’s hunger program.

John Corlett: This administration has proposed to remove the funding for Ohio’s 2nd harvest food banks. This would result in food banks across this state - soup kitchens, programs at temples at churches, at mosques all across this state to be able to provide 14 million less meal, when unemployment is on the rise that would be a tragedy, I believe, for the hundreds of thousands of seniors, families and children who turn to these food banks in times of crisis like the economic crisis we’re in right now.

And on the subject of economic crises, this from George Zeller of the Council for Economic Opportunities.

George Zeller: I read the paper this morning, and it said there are some economists worried we might go into a downturn. I have news for those economists. We are not in a sluggish economy Mr. Chairman. We are not in an economic downturn. We are in a very sharp recession here in Ohio! And especially here in northern Ohio and Cleveland.

Almost 19,000 jobs were lost in Cuyahoga County in the past year, Zeller says - 43,000 in the past two years. And, he says, that’s throwing the lives of thousands of citizens into disarray. Rents and mortgages are going unpaid, he says. Evictions and foreclosures are soaring.

If there’s an over-encompassing theme in this chorus, it’s that Ohio’s Republican dominated government is indifferent to solving the problem of poverty. That’s the view of Michael Skindle, an Ohio house member representing Lakewood and the west side of Cleveland.

Michael Skindle: That’s the real story down there. The majority in power down there have made it very vocal that they do not care about the urban centers. They prefer deep cuts into social programs so that no taxes are raised whatsoever.

Michael Dubose, representing the east side of Cleveland, agrees state budgeting has treated Cleveland unfairly, but doesn’t foist all the blame on republicans. He says the urban legislators need to do a better job of connecting to and convincing their suburban and rural counterparts.

Michael Dubose: Even if it means bringing them to the urban area. When you’re looking at numbers you don’t actually see the impact it has on people’s lives. Sometimes a personal visit is what it takes - to actually eyeball something and see faces and bodies and people and blood and sweat and tears behind these numbers.

Some might call that naive - after all, Dubose only joined the General Assembly last year. But educating lawmakers is on his agenda, as well as the agenda of City Council, the Cuyahoga County Commissioners, and public and private social service groups. They’re organizing an April bus trip to Columbus, where they’ll attempt to make their case as the General Assembly takes up the next biennial budget. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3.

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