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Area Arts, Education & Social Efforts Counting on Stimulus




Without Boost, Serious Harm is Predicted

Virginia’s social safety nets, as well as her arts and education efforts, are looking to President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package signed into law Tuesday to mitigate what will otherwise be disastrous recessionary consequences throughout the Commonwealth.

In the City of Falls Church, two leading non-profits connected to education and the arts are alerting their supporters of aggressive efforts to obtain some stimulus funds to allay the impact of squeezes on the state and local governments and school systems, as well as on the pocketbooks of individual benefactors. The non-profit Falls Church Educational Foundation and non-profit Falls Church Arts and Creative Cauldron organizations announced plans this week to apply for help.

But the long-lasting impact of the recession on childhood poverty statewide was the major issue that the Commonwealth Institute called attention to in a special report released Monday, entitled “Predicting Poverty in the Commonwealth.”

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, the executive directors of the Commonwealth Institute and the Voices for Virginia’s Children said that if unemployment reaches nine percent nationally by the end of the year, as predicted by Goldman Sachs, that an additional 218,000 Virginians, including 73,000 children, will be driven into poverty in 2009.

They said the implications of this, especially for the children, will be life-long in consequence, noting statistics showing that children pushed into poverty during a recession are 13 times more likely to remain in poverty as adults than individuals who do not experience poverty as children.

Already, children are harmed disproportionately by poverty. Currently in Virginia, while 8.6 percent of the total population lives below the official poverty rate, the rate is 13 percent for children.

Poverty “presents multiple risks to diminished potential for children,” noted John Morgan of the Commonwealth Institute Monday. “Children in poverty are likely to stay in poverty for years. It is not easy for them to recover. On the other hand, if a child can avoid poverty in their younger years, they’ll always tend to avoid it.”

But Obama’s stimulus package, signed in Denver within an hour of the telephone press conference here, could forestall the worst impacts of the recession on the state’s children, said Michael Cassidy of the Voices for Virginia’s Children.

Multi-billion holes in the state budget leading to a serious erosion of the state’s social safety nets at precisely the time demand for them is growing, could be “forestalled and backfilled” by the $4.5 billion in stimulus money coming to the state, Cassidy said.

“If it is wisely spent, it could offset many cuts that will hurt Virginia families,” Morgan said. They’re currently threatened by what he called “a perfect storm for economic stress.”

Cassidy noted that some of the federal stimulus money is tied to being employed, such as the earned income tax credit, but that the biggest problem facing Virginia families is a huge growth in unemployment.

Also, a delay in the impact of the stimulus may not prevent unemployment from rising to nine percent this year, before it begins to take hold.

But if the unemployment rate can be held to eight percent, then for Virginia it would mean that 46,000 fewer families, and 29,000 fewer children, will fall into poverty this year, he noted.

While the City of Falls Church faces a $3 million shortfall in its approximately $72 million annual operating budget, including its funding for the schools, the deficits are higher among other regional jurisdictions, with Prince William County’s Executive Craig Gerhart recommending an $838 million budget with a whopping $190 million revenue shortfall.

Despite proposing to raise the real estate tax rate by 22 cents, from 97 cents to $1.19 per $100 assessed valuation, revenues from that source will actually be down by 16 percent, due to the precipitous decline in assessed values in the county, he reported.

As a result, the county Board of Supervisors already decided earlier this month to close county group homes for at-risk youth.

But the federal stimulus money may be narrower in its application than can avert such cuts, with one portion going to an education fund designed to restore K-12 funding levels to the previous year’s, and the other going to a “flex fund” that would cover special education, homeless student assistance and subsidized student lunch programs. It will also offer child care subsidies for lower income parents, and more funds for Head Start programs.

Last week, a group of Fairfax County social service organizations and agencies met at the Tower Club in Tysons Corner to discuss a coordinated approach to alleviate the impact of the recession-driven budget and funding cuts.

Also, a group called the Fairfax Cares Campaign has set up a web site, announced yesterday, “to provide a way for people to donate directly to non-profit and faith-based organizations and provide them short-term, emergency assistance, such as food, shelter, utility expenses and more to residents of the Fairfax-Falls Church community.” The web site is www.fairfaxcares.org.

Crisis Link, the region’s foremost crisis telephone hotline that’s faced severe Fairfax County funding cutbacks in recent years, is moving ahead with its sixth annual Spring Luncheon and Fashion Show at noon at Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Outback Steakhouse in the Twinbrook Shopping Center, 9579 Braddock Rd., Fairfax. Door prizes, music by Kevin Nowak’s Jazz Ensemble, food by Outback and fashion by Judy Ryan of Fairfax are included. Tickets are $30 and can be obtained by calling (703) 516-6778.

The Falls Church Arts and Creative Cauldron non-profits alerted their members this week to an on-line webinar Friday, hosted by the Americans for the Arts, to discuss the arts funding included in the stimulus package. Laura Hull, executive director of Creative Cauldron, indicated, “This could provide critical funding for us for the Arts Space at Pearson Square.”

There is $50 million in the stimulus package in direct support for the arts that will be channeled through the National Education Association, it was noted.

Donna Englander, executive director of the non-profit Falls Church Education Foundation said she’ll be paying “close attention to the $650 million to fund school systems and ‘non-profits with strong track records of improving student achievement,'” and plans to approach the office of Rep. Jim Moran with some specific proposals for her organization.

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