City Hall is facing a budget crunch and many local programs are being scaled back or cut entirely. (File photo)

As more Santa Monicans fall into poverty, lose their health insurance and struggle to pay rent, social services for needy individuals and families are taking a hit.

The city of Santa Monica is proposing reducing grants to human services organizations by 12%, or about $1.1 million across 20 organizations. The funding reductions come as part of $86.2 million in annual budget cuts as the economic crisis caused by coronavirus slashes city revenues. But service providers say the crisis will leave many more people in need of assistance even as programs are scaled back.

John Maceri, executive director of homelessness service nonprofit The People Concern, said organizations serving disadvantaged individuals and communities will be needed more than ever as the community recovers from COVID-19. Many people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic will have a hard time finding work and repaying deferred rent, he said.

“The wealth gap is going to grow and racial inequalities are going to get worse,” he said. “The nonprofit sector is going to have to carry the burden and become even more of a social safety net than in the past, because the government is going to be decimated.”

The People Concern would lose a little less than $200,000 in funding from the city if the cuts are approved, of which more than $100,000 is used to fund three Santa Monica homeless shelters, Maceri said.

The organization and other nonprofits that receive grants from the city also stand to lose funding from other government entities running significant deficits during the pandemic, such as Los Angeles County.

“Santa Monica is not the only piece of the puzzle, and the cumulative impact of cuts from multiple sources could be pretty devastating,” he said. “We may get to a point where we have to consolidate our facilities and lose beds.”

St. Joseph Center, another organization serving people in need, would lose more than $100,000 in funding for programs that keep low-income Santa Monicans housed and assist vulnerable youth.

The Santa Monica Retention Program, which serves about 170 residents across 110 families, would see its funding cut by $65,000. More than $38,000 would be withdrawn from the Youth Resource Team, which serves 54 youth.

St. Joseph Center COO LaCheryl Porter said the organization would be unable to fill recently vacated case manager positions in both programs if City Council moves forward with the cuts.

“Serving the same number of people with fewer staff would be very difficult,” she said. “But the stress is even greater right now for the most vulnerable people … and even more people will be in need of services.”

Family Service of Santa Monica and Providence St. John’s Youth Development Project, which provide free mental health services to hundreds of local students, said cutting more than $95,000 in funding for their programs would limit their ability to serve children and youth dealing with trauma, depression and anxiety.

“Access to mental health services in a time of need is truly life-saving,” said YDP program coordinator Noa Saadi. “We work with countless children and youth who are contemplating suicide, and without these crucial resources would be at a much greater risk.”

FSSM director Angel Towler said City Council should not cut mental health programs for low- and middle-income residents as their levels of anxiety and stress soar during the pandemic and economic crisis.

“We are concerned that a possible short-term solution to address the current city budget concerns could potentially have long-term negative implications for the (community’s) most vulnerable children, youth and families,” Towler said.

Santa Monica’s only dedicated social services organization for seniors would see a $123,000 reduction in funding under the proposed plan.

Grace Cheng Braun, president and CEO of WISE & Healthy Aging, said the cuts would impact the organization’s ability to provide meals and coordinate care services for hundreds of low-income seniors — programs that WISE & Healthy Aging has adapted to reach housebound seniors during the pandemic.

A reduction in funding will also hurt the organization’s mental health, adult day care, enrichment and transportation programs, Cheng Braun said. City funding comprises 17% of WISE & Healthy Aging’s budget.

“Because we provide direct services, it is going to mean a significant number of seniors aren’t going to be receiving services,” she said. “Seniors are most at-risk and seriously impacted by this pandemic, and we have to make sure they aren’t becoming so isolated that it starts to impact their health and wellbeing.”

Cheng Braun said a 12% cut to each human services grant might not be the right approach to budget cuts. Programs that derive a larger proportion of their budgets from city grants will be disproportionately affected by the proposed cuts, she said.

“It’s easier to say, “let’s do the same percent for everybody,” but I don’t think that’s fair,” she said. “It’s not that we don’t understand that there need to be cuts, but we would welcome the opportunity to sit down and look at this in a more thoughtful way.”

A proposed city budget will be posted on May 26 in advance of City Council’s budget study session on June 9 before budget adoption on June 23.

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  1. It is not just cuts for Santa Monica’s low income residents. City Council legislatures have long ignored the lower income areas in Santa Monica, including removing the bus stop at the Housing Authority offices on Pico Blvd and Main St.
    The latest ignomony is closing the 2 libraries in South Santa Monica, the Ocean Park and Fairview branches, while keeping the others, north of Pico, open.

  2. The real bloat in Santa Monica’s budget is the astronomically high salaries for the city management and administration. $600K for the city manager?!! And a pension from that?! I mean really…what are they thinking. Go after the programs for the poor? Santa Monica’s administrative pay budget could be cut by 75% and they would still be well paid. But no, go after the people who have nothing. Your streets are going to become cluttered with more homeless people..

  3. Dangerous times. City council must take care to not allow their decisions to add to the growing chasm between the rich and poor by the rich profiting off this deadly pandemic while the poor suffer more. But they won’t. They’ll use this disruption for their own greed. I fear the city council’s corruption will further pad their pockets while taking monies away from those in need.

  4. Now all these de-funded groups know how it feels like to be Pico Youth & Family Center, although PYFC was defunded in political retaliation in 2015. PYFC was fought for, founded & run by Pico Neighborhood people, the the city council, Julie Rusk & city staff played divide, pay-off & conquer, and that’s where a very divided Pico Neighborhood stands. Shame on julie Rusk & city council. Let’s not forget.

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