A possible economic double whammy

Mar. 11, 2013 @ 04:08 PM

Stephanie Strickland and her volunteers at Cooperative Community Ministry in Thomasville already have stretched their resources to the thinnest margin in the past several years helping people cope with the Great Recession.
Now Strickland worries about how two other complications could affect people on the margins of society — the impact of federal budgets cuts from the sequester and the impending reductions in jobless benefits to North Carolinians this summer.
If more people are in need later this year because of cuts related to the sequester and jobless benefits, Strickland thinks about the adjustments her ministry would have to make in sobering terms. Instead of giving someone who shows up in need 10 items of food, the ministry would dole out eight to make donations stretch further, she said.
“With unemployment being cut, a lot of people will come here seeking services, whether for financial assistance or food assistance,” said Strickland, executive director of the ministry. “We’ve already been doing more with less, and try to serve everyone the best that we can. But it is a stress.”
There’s spirited debate about the impact of the sequester, which involves $1.2 trillion in federal budget cuts during 10 years and took effect beginning the first of this month. The same debate swirls around the effect of reductions in unemployment benefits, which takes effect starting July 1. After the first of July, the maximum weekly jobless benefit tops out at $350, and the amount of time someone can draw assistance declines by a period of weeks.
Many conservatives say the dire warnings about the fallout of sequester cuts and the reduction of unemployment benefits are being overblown. The sequester cuts came about because President Barack Obama and Congress couldn’t reach a compromise to prevent them, while the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill last month to reduce jobless benefits to address a $2 billion state debt to the federal government on unemployment assistance.
Within the circle of nonprofits, the sequester cuts and jobless benefits reductions are a point of conversation and concern, said Trisha Lester, vice president with the N.C. Center for Nonprofits based in Raleigh.
“Nonprofits have been struggling in the economy we’ve had since 2008. And most of them are having a very difficult time keeping up with the demand for support and services,” Lester told The High Point Enterprise.
The center, which has 1,630 members in all 100 counties, reports that in the past three years, more than one-third of nonprofits in North Carolina recorded a decrease in private giving. At the same time, requests for aid increased because of the recession, Lester said.
“Charitable nonprofits are already severely depleted from doing so much more, for so many more, for so much longer, with so much less,” said Tim Delaney, president of the National Council of Nonprofits based in Washington.

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