Catholic Charities squeezed by good economy
By Michelle Martin
Let Alan Greenspan worry about the economy overheating.
Father Michael Boland, administrator of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, is too busy worrying about how his agency will keep providing services to poor people in a world where nobody wants to believe anybody is poor anymore.
Catholic Charities budget for its new fiscal year shows a $3.5 million deficit, with $141.5 million in expected revenue to pay for $144.6 million in expenses, according to agency officials. And the budget already eliminates 61 jobs, Boland said.
One of those jobs belonged to Sally Heyneman. Heyneman served as the director of the Madonna/St. Joseph Center for 11 years until July 1. Then she, and most of her staff, became unemployed as Maryville took over responsibility for the program for pregnant and parenting teens.
Its real hard for everyone, said Heyneman. Its like a spiritual two-by-four for me. Ive been challenged by this. Its like God testing my faith.
Heyneman had not had time to look for a new position before her job ended; the last month was consumed with trying to keep the program running as close to normally as possible while other staff members tried to use up their vacation time, planning for the transition and reassuring the residents.
Boland said he looks for areas where other agencies can do as good a job or better when hes looking for programs to close or scale back. Thats why he decided to turn Madonna/St. Joseph over to MaryvilleMaryville is in the business of providing residential care to young people, and Madonna/St. Joseph was Catholic Charities only residential program for teens.
If the agencys financial situation does not change soon, more programs might have to close, which would mean more hard decisions for agency officials.
My major concern is to limit the impact on the very poor, Boland said.
But no one seems to believe that the agency needs more money, or that programs will be closed if none is found.
When Gov. George Ryan submitted his budget to the legislature last year, he included a 1 percent cost-of-living increase for human service contracts.
Those contracts make up nearly a third of Catholic Charities $144.6 million budgetpaying for everything from foster care for children to senior citizen services and family counseling.
They give us $44 million to provide programs that cost us $48 million, said Catholic Charities Comptroller Pedro Martinez.
Other large programs arent subject to annual cost-of-living adjustments.
But that is nowhere near enough, said Pedro Martinez, Catholic Charities comptroller. The agency is facing cost increases of nearly 10 percent, based on the rising cost of providing health benefits and giving an average raise of 3.5 percent to the agencies employees.
We start out behind and we fall further and further behind every year, Martinez said.
The difference traditionally has been made up with grants from foundations and other not-for-profit groups like United Way, and by private donations. But giving has not kept up with the need.
The government has to accept responsibility for providing these services to the poor, Boland said. Foundations have to do their share, and private donors have to understand their role. I think its very hard for people to understand the depth and the need that Catholic Charities deals with. Theres a lot of people who think that because theyre working and things are going well for them, its that way for everybody.
But many people cant make ends meet. About 164,000 people came to Catholic Charities for emergency assistance during the first six months of this year, Boland said, more than came during the Depression. Many of them are the working poor, some of them working three jobs, but their jobs dont pay them a living wage, or they dont have health benefits, and they need a bag of food or a bag of clothes to get by, he said.
Because of that, emergency services is one area that Catholic Charities is expanding. It also will open three new senior citizen housing complexes this summer, and break ground on another one.
The agency intends to keep its place as the largest Catholic social service in the United States, and keep its focus on providing services in a way that preserves the dignity of its clients and helps them become self-sufficient. But by emphasizing the quality of services, Catholic Charities may have to cut down on the quantity.
The first day they come into the shelter, our goal is to get them out of the shelter, Boland said. On the front end, its much more expensive to make them self-sufficient on the back end. Its much easier just to warehouse poor people.