Oakland Local

Bay Area

Oakland Braces for Cuts in Federal Funding for Food and Housing

Laura McCamy/Oakland Local

The maintenance budget for public housing is one place Oakland's Housing Authority might have to cut due to sequestration.

The public servants interviewed for this series on sequestration share a fierce commitment to serve those in need. 

The hopefulness and positivity of each - they were all women - in the face of one more budget cut, is remarkable, especially as their agencies scramble to shield their clients from the worst pain of sequestration.

WIC, the Women, Infants & Children program, is the only supplemental nutrition provider to have its federal funding cut by the sequester. Yet Laurie True, executive director of the California WIC Association, reports that the program will continue to serve “all comers.” WIC was able to maintain services by drawing on contingency funds.

“2014 is looking a lot grimmer,” True said. “It always takes a while for the vise to get tighter.” 

In hopes of reversing the budget cuts, the California WIC Association has launched a WE NEED WIC organizing campaign.

To deal with budget cuts of $2 million from the current fiscal year and $9 million in 2014, the Oakland Housing Authority is “considering the options,” spokeswoman Greer McVay said.

“All of the options are unattractive and none of the options help Oakland,” she added. “We’re going to do the best we can to serve as many people as we can.”

The Housing Authority is in a particularly difficult position because funds for the four construction projects currently underway already are committed. Budget savings will have to come from elsewhere. The cuts could “translate to hundred of families that we would not be able to serve,” McVay said.

Those currently housed with Section 8 vouchers, which provide rental assistance, will not be affected. However, families on the waiting list could find their wait even longer than the current three-to-five years.

Even before sequestration, the need exceeded OHA’s budget. In 2011, the Housing Authority opened its Section 8 waiting list for the first time since 2006: 55,000 households – representing as many as 100,000 people – applied for 10,000 slots.

Reducing the Housing Authority budget also has a ripple effect on the local economy.  Recent renovations at the Palo Vista Senior Center created jobs for more than 100 skilled and semi-skilled workers. Sequestration cuts could lead to the delay or cancellation of future projects, depriving the Bay Area of both employment and affordable housing.

A collaboration between the Housing Authority and Department of Human Services, Oakland PATH Re-housing Initiative, OPRI, has been forced to tell 40 people that “there is no program for them, at least for now,” according to Human Services Interim Director Sara Bedford. 

Oakland Human Services is receiving $600,000 less due to sequestration, on top of years of insufficient funding.

“We haven’t seen an increase in federal grant money for years,” Bedford said. "For five years, they have been eroding the system because costs have been going up."

As economist Paul Krugman recently pointed out in the New York Times, the people being forced to pay for the financial crisis are not the same people who caused it – and are often those who can least afford the price. 

Oakland's representative in Washington, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, offered this advice to her constituents: “The best thing you can do to get sequestration reversed is to have folks continue to work with my office to tell their story. We can take your stories of how the sequester is impacting you and lift them up in Washington.

"This is a national issue. We need people from all across the country to tell their representatives the pain that the sequester is inflicting and to demonstrate how real the cuts are.”

Source: Oakland Local []

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