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Hoyer Hears of Harm from Federal ‘Sequester’ Cuts

Representatives of LifeStyles of Maryland and some of its community partners clued U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer in on the harmful effects of federal budget cuts, also known as sequestration, at a meeting at the La Plata nonprofit Monday.

LifeStyles provides services and programs to support the needs of the community, with emphasis on serving the homeless.

Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) said that when folks in Washington talk about cutting funds by certain percentages, they are only seeing numbers. He said it was important for him to listen to whom the cuts would affect, and it was important for those people to make their cases known in Washington.

Hoyer said his colleagues need to put faces to the numbers.

Sandy Washington, executive director of LifeStyles, said that in talking about cuts, Hoyer spoke of large amounts of money.

“When you look at it locally, we get a small portion of that anyway,” she said.

Washington said LifeStyles receives a $30,000 emergency solutions grant, which is spread across numerous programs. Cutting from that already small figure, she said, makes it much more difficult to help people.

Washington said in a later interview that she wasn’t certain exactly how much federal funding would be cut next year.

Robin McKinney, director of the Maryland CASH campaign — Creating Assets, Savings and Hope for Maryland’s Working Families — spoke about how federal cuts could affect those who are working to help organizations like LifeStyles.

“When you are taking what isn’t enough and reducing it, then it’s not meat, it’s not fat anymore. You are really down to the bone. ... This money isn’t going to frivolous purposes. We are getting value out of every single penny,” she said.

The campaign promotes financial stability for low-income households in Maryland. It partners with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, free tax preparation assistance to working individuals who claim the earned income tax credit, a tax credit that strengthens the financial security of low- and middle-income households, according to information provided by LifeStyles. The CASH campaign received $60,000 in federal funding to spread across 14 Maryland counties this year.

“Our partners do 18,022 tax returns, and so, we are trying to give everybody something,” McKinney said.

Through a process of leveraging resources, McKinney said CASH has in the past been able to raise about $400,000 a year to hand out to partners for various programs. With cuts and uncertainties, “we’re lucky if we can get to $110,000 next year,” she said, reminding Hoyer that the smaller amount would still spread to 14 counties.

There are 400 VITA volunteers in Maryland helping people prepare taxes. She said the program saves people money. It leverages an “incredible community resource,” and those who come into the partner sites get connected with all the other services those partners provide.

That is the case for Roger Gardiner, who receives services through LifeStyles, including VITA and Safe Nights. Safe Nights provides shelter for those in need in the winter months.

Gardiner said he appreciates the services of LifeStyles. He said he was helped to get “squared away,” regarding back taxes.

This is the fourth year LifeStyles has offered the tax program.

The main reason for doing so, said Corae Young, assistant director of LifeStyles, is that those the program is helping are mainly the clients who come into LifeStyles every day.

LifeStyles volunteers received free training through the help of AARP and financial and other resources from the IRS and CASH.

While the program is centralized at LifeStyles, there are 11 mobile sites covering Charles, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s and Calvert counties.

Chenee Hamilton said she has been participating with the VITA program through LifeStyles for two years now and likes the convenience and the fact that it’s free so she can use the money she would have paid to have her taxes prepared on resources for her family.

“It’s definitely essential, and it’s convenient,” she said.

Hamilton is also a volunteer with LifeStyles.

As of March 24, LifeStyles assisted in preparing taxes for 187 people with more than $400,000 in state and federal returns and credits. Tax help is just one area where LifeStyles assists those in need.

Will Gribble is a client of Safe Nights and told Hoyer, “When I first became homeless, I was referred to LifeStyles. They’ve really helped me out the last year and a half to help me get on my feet.”

Gribble said he never expected to be in his current situation and that it stemmed from a disability.

Washington said that this year, there have been 187 people registered with Safe Nights.

The program can house between 30 and 50 people each night, depending on the location.

Washington said the program can only take the first group of people that comes in by 4 p.m. Once the shelter reaches its capacity, no more are admitted.

“We get to that point every day,” Washington said.

The program is looking to expand next year, if possible.

While 187 homeless people are identified through Safe Nights, there are many more, including 801 homeless schoolchildren, Washington said.

“We are a hurting community right now,” she said.

Pat Santee, office manager at the Charles County Children’s Aid Society, said that another affect of funding cuts is that many people who at one time were donors for charities such as Children’s Aid are now clients.

Donna Harley, interim director for the Department of Social Services, said that based on the economy, many people are coming in for services who never thought they would need to be.

“We are losing our way at the federal government in terms of focusing on people who need help. Every one of us needs to raise our voices about this,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer next headed west along Charles Street to the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. warehouse and distribution center, where he was briefed on the company and its nutritional and environmental initiatives.

The La Plata center employs 27 people and delivers all of the Coca-Cola beverages sold in Southern Maryland.

“If it’s in somebody’s fridge, it came through here,” said Ellen Valentino, executive vice president of the MD-DE-DC Beverage Association.

Hoyer also got a tour of the facility, which culminated in a brief powwow with a handful of employees.

He discussed his manufacturing initiative — Make It In America — fielded a question about gun control legislation and joked about a nickname he once shared with former North Carolina governor Jim Hunt when both were leaders in the Young Democrats in the 1960s.

Both teetolers, “we were known as the ‘Coke Twins,’ which back in the early ‘60s was OK,” Hoyer said.

Visits Charles Co. to hear from those affected firsthand