Community Action Executive Director John Cuneo.
Fuel assistance for local households; school head start; food for Women’s, Infants and Children; emergency shelters; a homeless drop-in center; and other services are at risk if President Donald Trump’s budget is approved by Congress.
That is the warning from Haverhill’s Community Action agency, founded in 1965 as part of then-President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “war on poverty.”
“I am dismayed by the president’s budget and comments. If the line items in his budget that directly affect (Community Action’s) programs pass as written, it will have a detrimental impact on the residents we serve,” said Executive Director John Cuneo in a statement. “There are millions of Americans who are suffering. Cutting their lifeline at this time makes no sense and may prove to be inhumane as well,” he added.
Last year, the agency received about $3.2 million to pay for heating assistance. Cuneo said the program served more than 4,300 families in Greater Haverhill, Amesbury and Newburyport, including nearly 1,600 elderly households and 629 households with children under age 5. Heating assistance staff also responded to 102 emergency no heat calls. Cuneo said eliminating fuel assistance will have “a devastating impact on our local disadvantaged families. Some may have to choose to either pay for heat or food.”
In 2016, Community Action also received $310,000 in federal Community Services Block Grants, which are now at risk. The money was used to leverage $12 million in federal, state, local and private funds for services to 10,000 residents in Haverhill and 14 other communities. The majority of these grants pay for emergency basic services including shelter, food and clothing. Federal cuts would mean laying off all of the agency’s Community Service staff, who provide rental assistance for those who are homeless or facing homelessness, a food pantry, a clothing bank, tenant landlord mediations, basic transportation and more.
Cuts also would remove part of the salary of the director of the Homeless Drop In Center. The center offers day shelter services for more than 90 homeless individuals each weekday, including a hot breakfast, box lunches, on-site medical services, housing/shelter assistance, clothing and case management.
“We shouldn’t be balancing the budget on the backs of our most vulnerable residents.”