NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

December 5, 2012

As winter nears, nonprofit officials fear impact of spending cuts

BOSTON — Nonprofit organizations that help people find housing or provide food and fuel assistance are bracing for a tough winter, expecting more people to need help at a time when federal subsidies could be reduced.

The number of Massachusetts residents expected to fall off unemployment benefits, coupled with high fuel and food costs, will force residents to choose between eating or heating their homes, several officials from nonprofit organizations said during a conference call arranged by social service agencies.

Federal emergency unemployment insurance benefits are scheduled to run out at the end of the year. The fiscal cliff that Congress is wrangling over — a series of scheduled tax hikes and spending cuts — could make the problem worse for many residents and the charities that help them survive, according to Catherine D’Amato, executive director of the Greater Boston Food Bank.

Expected federal cuts to food programs, particularly commodities and USDA foods, will strain food banks. In addition, the possibility of fewer resources for federal entitlement programs will put more pressure on the emergency system, D’Amato said during the call.

“Hunger is increasingly becoming a middle-class problem across our commonwealth,” D’Amato said. “The issue has changed over time, in particular since the recession.”

One in 11 Massachusetts residents, approximately 800,000 people, are “food insecure,” meaning they visit a food pantry, soup kitchen or shelter, according to D’Amato. Nationally, 1 in 8 Americans visit a food pantry, soup kitchen or shelter to eat. The Greater Boston Food Bank serves approximately 90,000 people a week through a network of pantries, shelters and soup kitchens.

The increased need for help has spurred a boost in the response from charitable donors this year.

In 2009, several organizations pulled together to create MassNeeds, a statewide coordinated effort to take a broad look at hunger, housing, heating and health needs. The group raised a record amount in donations this year, $8.4 million collected from 40 corporate, private and public foundations. Last year, they collected $3 million from 20 donors.

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