CDBG recommendations in Amherst concern survival center, Big Brothers Big Sisters

  • Martha Wheeler, of Belchertown, left, picks a butternut squash as Jeff Roth-Howe, a volunteer at the Amherst Survival Center, right, assists her at the center, in 2014. The Amherst Survival Center is one of several agencies and organizations that have raised concerned over the allocation of Community Development Block Grant funds in Amherst. gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Thursday, February 08, 2018

AMHERST — For the Amherst Survival Center, a significant reduction in municipal support for its pantry risks its ability to meet the needs of low-income families who depend on the food service.

For Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County, a program of the Center for Human Development, losing its entire town funding will mean 100 children, identified as at risk by the Amherst Regional Public Schools’ Family Center, may not get the mentoring they need.

Representatives from both agencies told the Select Board Monday why they are concerned with the recommendations, made by the Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee, for appropriating $165,000 in social service funding.

The presentations came in advance of a CDBG Advisory Committee meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Bangs Community Center, when advocates will make their final appeals. Town Manager Paul Bockelman must submit the funding requests to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development by March 2.

Mindy Domb, executive director of the Amherst Survival Ceter, said that the $40,000 recommended is $15,000 less than the center’s food pantry received this year, which is not only a 27 percent cut, but well short of the $65,000 it requested to keep pace with demand.

“To face a cut of that magnitude, in a year when we’re expecting increased need, is a concern,” Domb said.

The food pantry serves 13 towns, with about 52 percent of those who use it from Amherst. The survival center launched a mobile food pantry at Southpoint Apartments, and has continued food programs for senior citizens and children through Kids Boost.

Domb said that there could be cuts to nutrition programs at the federal level, meaning funding is critical in fiscal 2019, which begins July 1.

Claudia Pazmany, a board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters, said to not get any of the $40,000 requested, which would support 25 new matches and 75 existing matches, is a concern.

Pazmany said that the loss of funds will cause disruptions to its work and expand the waiting list, which is already at nearly 200 children, about a third who live in Amherst.

Though the Select Board unanimously endorsed the recommendations, members suggested that Bockelman take the concerns seriously.

Senior Planner Nathaniel Mallot said CDBG rules stipulate that a maximum of five agencies can be funded, and the advisory committee focused on “basic human needs” this year, such as job training, literacy and food.

But that meant that two that serve children are not being recommended. In addition to Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Amherst Boys & Girls Club, which asked for $45,000 for expanding youth development activities and build out of a new facility, was denied.

Select Board member Alisa Brewer asked why the advisory committee recommended $40,000 for Amherst Community Connections, an agency that has not been funded in the past.

Malloy said the agency had improved its application from previous years and its focus was on homelessness and housing challenged people at its one-stop resource center.

Others that are recommended for funding include Family Outreach, which would get $35,000 for its community housing support program, The Literacy Project, which would get $30,000 for adult literacy classes and job readiness skill building and the Center for New Americans, which would receive $20,000 for immigrant education to get people to economic self-sufficiency.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.