Rooftop facing massive cuts

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By April Wright, Reporter

With a proposed 62 percent reduction in state funding at Rooftop of Virginia Community Action Program, this could lead to a reduction in staff, closing the outreach facilities in Whitetop and Cana, cutting services and decreasing the number of clients by 75 percent, according to Chris Bedsaul, executive director of Rooftop.

Rooftop of Virginia, based in Galax, is a private, non-profit agency supported by federal, state and local funds and is designed to help low-income individuals and families in Galax, Carroll and Grayson counties through its various programs, such as Head Start, home weatherization, a food bank, emergency assistance funds and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds.

But the emergency assistance program — the most-used service — is in danger with the proposed state budget cuts. Emergency assistance funds help low-income households pay electric bills, buy heating sources and pay rent once an eviction notice is received.

According to a list of proposed figures for 26 CAP programs in Virginia, Bedsaul points out that Rooftop, if changes are not made, would receive only $185,640 for fiscal year 2011. That is down from $490,837 this year — which included $263,000 in stimulus funds — and down $309,069 from the previous fiscal year.

“What we need is for the public to know that these are proposed cuts,” said Bedsaul. “Just because these are proposed, doesn't mean that this figure is going to stick.”

Bedsaul, who has worked at Rooftop since 1997 and has been executive director since 2005, said this is the worst it has ever been.

Throughout the years, Rooftop has maintained level funding. In previous years, generally, a smaller number is proposed and then federal block grant funds for TANF has helped bridge the small gap in state funding. But even these funds can only be used to support families with children under 18 and pay Rooftop staff that oversees that service.

Del. Mamye BaCote (D-Newport News), with co-patrons Del. Steve Landes (R-Waynesboro) and Sen. William Wampler (R-Bristol), have introduced in the House of Delegates amendments to restore $6 million in TANF federal block grant funds for CAP programs throughout the state.

“There will be intense competition for limited TANF funds among many organizations,” writes Jim Schuyler, of Virginia Community Action Partnership, in a letter to community program directors. “Our legislative effort will take work by everyone — your board members, friends and allies in the community — to support the amendment.”

But with a hefty proposed reduction, which would hit hard in the emergency assistance program, Bedsaul said the number of clients receiving emergency help could drop from 4,000 to 400.

There is already a waiting list for each program, including Head Start.

This fiscal year, Rooftop received more than $263,000 in stimulus funds for emergency assistance funds, but according to the requirements, all has to be used by September or sent back to the government. From July to November 2009, $121,452 was expended, taking care of 339 households. Bedsaul said Rooftop has budgeted the money to help 10 clients per week, allowing the money to last until September.

Rooftop serves 5,000 clients per year, with some receiving multiple services.

“Now people are in even greater need,” said Bedsaul. “The unemployment rate is now changing, and now we may have 75 percent less funds to help people with. To have to turn away 75 percent of our clients, it is going to be a nightmare.”

Bedsaul said if these sharp budget cuts go through, without the help of TANF funds, it could mean that Rooftop will have to cut benefits for workers, then staff, close the outreach centers in Cana and Whitetop, and as a last resort, eliminate some programs.

These outreach centers, where individuals and families can obtain help and fill out applications for services, allow people in those areas — who might not otherwise have transportation to Rooftop in Galax — to get help at Cana and Whitetop locations.

“With the proposed cuts, we have no other choice than to cut services,” she said. “We're not saying that the General Assembly doesn't listen to us, but they need to hear from people who use our services.

“We're optimistic that we will receive TANF funds and hope that something changes so we're not put in this position. There are just too many great things that come out of the community action programs.”

Bedsaul requested that clients write letters to their representatives, explaining how Rooftop of Virginia has impacted their lives. On her annual trip to Richmond in January to meet with other CAP directors, Bedsaul distributed a packet of letters to representatives written by Rooftop clients pleading that these services continue to be funded.

“I am 76 years old and my Social Security check is $522 a month, and it's hard to live on this amount...,” writes one client. “There will be so many families and individuals without emergency services. Clients that need the services will be without help. I'm asking you to please let things stay as they were in the year 2009, as it is so badly needed.”

“There are a lot of people in our community that do not have the money to pay high power bills, rent and buy food, so if it wasn't for Rooftop, Willing Partners, etc., then 90 percent of our community would be homeless and starving,” writes another client. “I don't even have a car because I can't afford one. We are behind on our rent and doctor's bills because my husband's work is slow and I am waiting on my Social Security disability.”

Another says “Just last week, Rooftop helped me with my power bill and with food for my family. If it wasn't for them, I don't know what I would have done.”

With what is proposed and with TANF helping to bridge the gap in funding, the budget would still be a reduction of 5 to 8 percent.

“This would be bearable compared to 62 percent,” said Bedsaul. “We would still need to make some changes, perhaps negotiating with our landlords for cheaper rent or changing a full-time position to part-time.”

• To write to state legislators, letters can be sent to:

Rooftop of Virginia CAP

P.O. Box 853

Galax, VA 24333.

These letters will be forwarded to the representatives.