Canton Repository

July 3, 2005

Regula spending bill helps, hinders agencies in Stark

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — A welfare-to-work program in Stark County could lose half of its funding under a spending bill authored by Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township. Meanwhile, a health clinic in Canton would benefit from the legislation, the largest domestic spending bill considered by Congress.

A community action agency that serves Tuscarawas County also would suffer under the plan, while a one-stop employment and training agency that benefits the Canton and New Philadelphia areas would see little difference in its federal support.

The bill provides funding for the federal departments of Health and Human Services, Education and Labor.

The $459.5 billion legislation would boost school funding slightly, increasing federal dollars for at-risk students and children with disabilities next year.

Those spending levels are not yet final. While the House passed the bill June 24, the Senate will not put together its own version of the legislation until later this month. Whatever final bill emerges from House and Senate negotiations needs the approval of President Bush.

Nevertheless, the bill drafted by Regula, vice chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, offers an advance look at how schools, health-care facilities and job training programs may fare under relatively tight spending restraints.

The legislation marks the first time since Ronald Reagan was president that Congress is cutting the non-defense spending over which it has control below the previous years’ level.

“It’s kind of a shock to us,” said Lee Bishop, employment and training director at the Stark County Community Action Agency, which would lose federal funding in the bill. “Normally when others have experienced cuts we have been handled gently.”

As a result of a proposed halving in community services block grant funds, the agency’s budget for employment and training of low-income county residents would fall to about $300,000 from $613,287 this year.

The administration proposed eliminating the funding entirely, arguing the block grant has failed to show results.

Bishop said the agency has moved 937 families out of poverty since 1997. If funding is cut in half, the number of people the agency places in jobs may fall to about 50 a year from 100 at present, he said.

In Tuscarawas County, the funding cut would result in layoffs, affecting energy assistance programs and other services offered by the HARCATUS Tri-County Community Action Agency, executive director Charles E. Lorenz II said.

“You can well imagine it’s going to dramatically lessen the personnel, the facilities and the infrastructure that we have,” he said.

The legislation would benefit community health centers such as the Canton Community Clinic, which is depending on an increase to receive a $627,338 federal grant that was promised by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt during a visit in April.

The grant would help the clinic expand the health services it provides to patients regardless of their ability to pay. Without the $100 million increase for health centers in the Regula bill, the Canton clinic would not get the grant.

One-stop centers, such as the Employment Source in Canton and New Philadelphia, expect little change even though the bill reduces their funding slightly.

“I don’t think our customers will see any difference,” said Sharon Parry, executive director of the Employment Source. She expressed relief that one-stops were spared significant cuts. Regula often has lauded the center, which brings various service providers together to help people find jobs and improve their skills.

Education spending would emerge relatively unscathed, with slight increases in the two largest, multibillion-dollar federal school aid programs — Title 1 grants to benefit students at risk and funds for special education.

“It’s hard to say what Ohio’s cut would be out of that,” because federal funds are apportioned to states based on complex formulas, said Jeff Jordan, associate director of grants management at the Ohio Department of Education.

But it’s “absolutely for certain” that funding for Ohio is rising rather than falling, he said.

Federal funds account for about 6 percent of spending on elementary and secondary education in Ohio.

The bill also increases student financial aid, raising the maximum Pell grant to $4,100 from $4,050 and paying off a $4.3 billion debt in student aid accumulated by the government in recent years.

Overall, the spending proposal is 30 percent above last year’s $354 billion legislation, largely as a result of the prescription drug benefit added to the Medicare program for older Americans. About two-thirds of the bill is taken up with mandatory or entitlement spending, which grows based on eligibility and over which Congress has no control.

In an effort to rein in the high federal budget deficit, estimated at $350 billion this year, Congress is reducing non-defense discretionary spending. Regula’s bill would cut discretionary spending to $142.5 billion, a reduction of less than 1 percent from 2005.

Democratic lawmakers in the House complained that the bill shortchanges education, health care and job training, and they unsuccessfully sought to roll back tax cuts to provide additional funds for social services.

“We’ve made some tough decisions,” Regula said of the legislation. “We eliminated 49 programs and did not initiate eight new programs proposed by the president.” But given the amount of funding available, he added, “I think we’ve done an excellent job ... in making priority choices.”