WHEELING - Facing a 7.5-percent decrease to its budget next year due to state funding cuts, Wheeling Health Right is making an appeal to City Council to restore its annual share of the city's federal Community Development Block Grant entitlement.
During a meeting last week, Mayor Andy McKenzie notified City Council of a letter he received from Health Right Executive Director Kathie Brown asking city officials to reconsider how they allocate funds under the program, administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Such a move, however, could mean an uncertain future for the city Human Rights Commission, as its entire budget comes from CDBG funding.
Health Right, which operates a free community clinic on 29th Street, is one of the agencies that historically has received a share of Wheeling's annual CDBG allocation. But with cuts to the city's entitlement totaling nearly $463,000 over the past two years, council this fiscal year decided to cease funding those agencies through the federal grant program.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Wheeling Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge, left, and City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth listen to discussion during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
"Decreased funding will make it very difficult to reach out to any new patients. ... I am appealing to City Council to reconsider funding of public service agencies that provide quality services to thousands of our citizens," the letter reads. "The funding would have a dramatic impact on all public agencies as well as your constituents."
HUD allows only 15 percent of a city's CDBG entitlement to be allocated for public services - the rest must go toward capital projects such as demolition, paving and building repair. City Manager Robert Herron said for the current fiscal year, council chose to direct CDBG money for public services to only three recipients, all of them city agencies - $65,897 to the Wheeling Human Rights Commission, about $50,000 to the police department for increased patrols in East Wheeling and on Wheeling Island, and $21,000 to the city-owned Nelson Jordan Center.
"Council would have to consider whether they want to continue funding the Human Rights Commission. ... That's really the choice that council would have to make," said Herron.
McKenzie, Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge and Councilmen Don Atkinson and Eugene Fahey all said they would strongly consider Brown's request.
Brown's letter states Health Right serves more than 7,500 Wheeling residents, 70 percent of whom have jobs but are not able to afford health insurance.
"That number is just astonishing. ... This is truly for the working poor, and I think this is something we need to look at very hard," said Fahey.
Delbrugge said council needs to act to help agencies like Health Right and the soup kitchen, "and the sooner, the better."
The Human Rights Commission has one paid employee, Executive Director Theresa Garrett. She said she's sympathetic to the plight of agencies that, like the commission, have seen their funding cut in recent years.
"I truly believe that these social service agencies are struggling just like the rest of us. ... I understand their concern, and I understand their needs," she said.
Garrett said the commission has been looking into alternate sources of funding but hasn't been successful thus far. The group is a law enforcement agency that is an arm of city government, she noted, and is not eligible for many of the grants available to other nonprofit agencies.
Commission Chairwoman Rabbi Beth Jacowitz-Chottiner, who serves as an unpaid volunteer along with eight other commission members, said she hopes some way can be found to continue funding the commission and also help the other social service agencies that play vital roles in the community.
"For many years, the budget of the Human Rights Commission also came from the general fund. According to the city's ordinance, it is still permissible for that to be the case," she said.
Jacowitz-Chottiner noted the Wheeling Human Rights Commission recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, established by city leaders at that time to ensure equal opportunity in employment, housing and public accommodations.
"This city had a HRC before the civil rights act was enacted, which means we had some pretty forward thinkers in this city," she said.
For the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2010, Wheeling received $1.6 million in CDBG funds. That number declined to about $1.34 million in fiscal 2011, and again to about $1.14 million for the current fiscal year.
Wheeling allocated a total of $67,800 in 2010 CDBG funds to outside public service agencies including $4,000 each for the Augusta Levy Learning Center, Community Child Care Center, Laughlin Chapel and Seeing Hand Association; $5,000 each for the Catholic Charities Neighborhood Center and the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling; $5,500 for the Greater Wheeling Homeless Coalition; $8,000 for Family Service-Upper Ohio Valley; $8,300 for WATCH Inc.; and $20,000 for Wheeling Health Right.
In 2011, all of those agencies saw cuts in their CDBG allocation. Augusta Levy and WATCH weren't funded at all; Health Right saw a $1,000 cut to $19,000; and the rest received $500 less than in 2010. The only new addition was the Children's Museum of the Ohio Valley, which received $2,500.
During those two years, CDBG funding for the Human Rights Commission has decreased from $75,200 to $65,897 and for the police patrols from $58,000 to $50,000. The Nelson Jordan Center, meanwhile, has seen its share increase from $18,000 to $21,000 during that time.