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Local citizens, community agencies discuss the effects of federal budget cuts
GRAND RAPIDS – Over 60 people gathered at the library in Grand Rapids last week to discuss how the proposed federal “skinny” budget would affect people living in the Grand Rapids area. Community members, representatives from local agencies, and a member of Congressman Nolan’s federal staff, Tom Whiteside, engaged in a discussion facilitated by moderator Jesse Davis on topics ranging from heating assistance to the SNAP program.
Executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank, Sue Estee, was the first to speak about the proposed cuts. She focused much of her time on what would happen if SNAP were cut by block granting it to the states. “Moody’s Analytics says nearly every dollar spent on SNAP provides $1.73 in return to the economy. Block granting SNAP would hurt both people who rely on SNAP benefits and the small businesses that accept them as payment.” Estee also spoke in favor of maintaining The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and urged Congressman Nolan to support it in Washington.
The federal budget in its current form could also eliminate federal funding for weatherization and the Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) which many local folks rely on to survive the winter. Dale Jokinen of the KOOTASCA Weather Assistance Program expressed his concern that cutting federal funds for weatherization could harm the local economy. “Most clients federal funds go right back into the local economy.” He continued stating that weatherization allows seniors to stay independent longer. “These cuts really affect the clients I serve. I just want what’s best for the clients.”
This budget also seeks cuts funding for school lunch and after school programs. One member of the community noted that some schools have been highlighted in the media for not providing meals to kids who can’t afford it. They referred to the practice as “lunch shaming.” In response to this, Anne Olson-Reiners, principal of Keewatin Elementary, stated, “I can only speak for our school. Every kid eats lunch at our school whether they can afford it or not.” Two hundred ten of the 317 kids at Keewatin Elementary receive free breakfast and lunch every day at school. “We can’t take food away from hungry kids. We just can’t.”
Speakers from legal services, KOOTASCA, Community Cafe, and Itasca County Health and Human Services also shared information on how their services could be impacted by federal cuts. Many expressed concern that if programs are eliminated due to federal cuts, the services those programs provide will have to be picked up and absorbed by other agencies/programs.
Many of the community’s concerns were directed specifically to Congressman Nolan’s staffer, Tom Whiteside. Folks urged Congressman Nolan to stand up against the proposed budget cuts. Whiteside was very receptive to the needs of the community and stayed after to talk with attendees to whom he handed out his contact information.
Moderator Jesse Davis summed up the night saying, “I think what we’ve all been discussing here is that the investments that are coming in from taxpayer dollars actually have a really huge return.” Again citing Estee’s statistic on the $1.73 return to the economy for every SNAP dollar spent, he said, “Cuts like these are really going to cost more than they are going to save.”