Human Services Face Budget Cuts

Economic crisis forces Cambridge to cutback on community services

Cambridge’s Department of Human Services Programs is among the areas hit hardest by the recent statewide budget cuts announced early last month. Several DHS programs that are funded through state, city, and private grants will see significant cuts to the services they provide for the community, ranging from childcare to adult education, according to DHC officials.

The Center for Families, a support program that runs educational activities and provides resources for families with young children, suffered the largest direct cut: the Massachusetts Family Network grant, which makes up most of the agency’s current funding, was cut by 21.7 percent, a reduction of over $30,000.

Assistant City Manager for Human Services Ellen M. Semonoff predicted that funding prospects would only worsen after likely additional cuts in January and also in the following fiscal year.

“We can assume that things are likely to get more challenging this year and next before they get easier,” she said. “There is a high likelihood that the budget in 2010 will not restore the cuts.”

The North Cambridge Crime Task Force lost around $12,000 of state money from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, which amounts to a 25 percent reduction in salary for its 25-hour-a-week employee. While NCCTF can keep the employee until the end of the fiscal year, the part-time position will no longer be funded thereafter.

Although the Cambridge Community Learning Center has only seen a small reduction in funding, the center is still under strain because its operational costs have increased due to inflation.

The center is looking to cut back on the computer classes it provides due to a reduction in funding for the salaries of teaching staff, according to the center’s director.

“With the increase in costs each year, it’s a struggle to keep programs going,” said Mina Reddy, the center director. “It’s not as bad as it could be, and we would be much smaller without state funding.”

Semonoff said she worried that although the budget cuts to the Department of Human Services are small in proportion to the city budget as a whole, reduction of services provided by DHS—among them mental health and day treatment programs—would have a large impact on Cambridge and surrounding communities.

She also pointed out that in this time of fiscal downturn, the employees of human service agencies are worried about the security of their own jobs.

“The very agencies that help people with the myriad of issues they face are struggling themselves because funding is reduced, and maybe they even have a spouse or partner who lost their job somewhere else,” Semonoff said.

DHS agency directors expressed relief that Question One—the ballot measure that would have eliminated the current 5.3 percent income tax—failed to pass last Tuesday. Income tax accounts for nearly $12 billion in state revenue. According to Reddy, the effect of the repeal if passed, would have been “absolutely devastating.”

Many centers suffering losses are turning to private grants, though the amount lost in state funding is ultimately irreplaceable, Reddy said.

“We can try to make up [deficits] that way, but it is highly unlikely that we will make up very much,” Semonoff said. “Instead we have to look, as most agencies are, into how to provide the best services we can with the funding that we have.

—Staff writer Shan Wang can be reached at wang38@fas.harvard.edu.