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FALLOUT FROM FEDERAL DEFICIT-CUTTING: Food, housing program slashed

Bad news for the hungry and homeless in Becker County: Although the need is greater than ever, Mahube Community Council now has less money to help struggling families stay in their homes.

Mahube saw its Emergency Food and Shelter Program funding slashed this year, cut by 78 percent from the year before, because of congressional budget cuts required by majority House Republicans before they would agree to raise the ceiling on the national debt.

"I'm sure it was a shock to everyone, because no one expected this severe of a cut," said Marcia Otte, family development director for Mahube.

Last year Mahube received $22,683 for the program in Becker County. This year it will receive just $4,869.

The money goes to the Becker County Food Pantry, the Meals on Wheels program and by Mahube itself for homelessness assistance and prevention.

The food pantry will receive $2,352 and Meals on Wheels will receive $1,536.

Last year the food pantry got $11,000 and Meal son Wheels received $7,000.

Because the funding was slashed so badly, Mahube decided to forego its usual share and give it all to the food pantry and Meals on Wheels this year, Otte said.

Mahube's share (based on last year's split) would have been just $912, enough to help perhaps two families. More people could be helped through the other programs, she said.

Last year Mahube received $4,229 for its homelessness prevention and assistance program. It will be discontinued. While the other two programs provide food to feed very low income and elderly Becker County residents, The Mahube program helps keep people in their homes -- or to find a place to live if they are homeless.

Mahube is also mourning the upcoming loss of its Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program, funded over two years with $350,000 in federal stimulus money.

"When you lose that kind of money, you can't make it up -- it has an impact," she said. "At the end of September, it's gone."

Mahube aims to "be a bridge between being homeless and getting them into Section 8," a subsidized federal housing program that often has long waiting lists, Otte said.

Of the 30 households helped by the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program over the past year, two families will be transferred into Mahube's transitional housing program; the others are on their own, but had fair warning that this was coming for several months, Otte said.

"We've worked with them to increase their income, or if not, to get them into Section 8," she said. "We use scattered site independent rental units -- when we pull our services away, the client can still stay in those units and pay their own rent -- that's the goal ... We want to make them as accountable as possible."

She is looking forward to seeing The Refuge open its men's homeless shelter in Detroit Lakes.

"It will serve a huge need that we have when the shelter opens," she said.

Mahube now gets $500 a year to help those who need emergency overnight lodging -- and that only serves seven or eight people.

Otte relies on her network of providers to help out when that money is gone -- the Salvation Army sometimes provides lodging vouchers in an emergency, for instance.

Hubbard County saw its Mahube allocation cut from $14,538 last year to $3,902 -- a 73 percent cut.

Mahnomen County saw its allocation drop from $7,868 last year to $3,180 this year -- a 60 percent cut.

The reduced funding was because the federal program raised its criteria this year, targeting jurisdictions with an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent or higher and a poverty rate of 14.4 percent or higher.

Only nine of Minnesota's 87 counties qualified this year and the three counties served by Mahube -- Becker, Hubbard and Mahnomen -- were not among them. Usually about half the state's counties qualify for the direct federal grants, and those have always included Becker, Hubbard and Mahnomen, Otte said.

It's only from a block grant to states that Mahube saw any money at all for the program: Minnesota received about $345,000, down from $903,000 the year before.

The food pantry, Meals on Wheels and Mahube are not the only ones hurt by the big federal budget cuts forced by the House Republicans this year.

"Becker County has gotten very serious cuts in their federal programs," Otte said.