Legislators urged to advocate for social service network funding


BENNINGTON >> Local legislators were urged this week to advocate for additional funding for organizations which serve the most vulnerable families.

Organizations like Sunrise Family Resource Center in Bennington provide important services, social service workers told lawmakers at a forum on Tuesday, and ultimately save the state millions of dollars through prevention efforts. That's important, they said, given the state's budget troubles.

"I don't think it's about coming up with other sources of money," Amelia Silver, development director and family development coordinator with Sunrise Opportunities, said at the forum at the Old First Church of Bennington's barn. "It's about us being good advocates... It's also about legislators thinking creatively and about where money may not be the most effective."

Sunrise is a social services agency that offers support in childcare, secondary education, case management, advocacy and intensive home-based supports, resource and referral for childcare providers, employment counseling, parenting education. It's one of the state's 15 Parent Child Centers (PCCs) in the state which provide support and education to families with young children.

The base funding for PCCs was established in 1988 and, according to Sunrise Director Linda Dean-Farrar, has not been raised since 1995. The state's 15 PCCs share $735,535 annually.

Sunrise and other PCCs are requesting lawmakers increase the base funding from roughly $49,000 for each center to $135,000, for a total of $2.025 million. They are also requesting an additional $2.25 million to expand a Strengthening Families program across the state.

In attendance were State Senator Brian Campion and state representatives Steven Berry, Alice Miller, Kiah Morris and Mary Morrissey.

Funding was a major point of discussion.

Dean-Farrar said much of her organization's work is on government contracts and paid with by grants. But those grants fall short of what the services actually cost, she said.

Dean-Farrar and others argued prevention is, in the long term, beneficial to the state. Each PCC collectively save the state $2.13 million, she said, by preventing one birth to a teenager, one woman in prison, one child placed into foster care, and one single mother receiving public assistance.

Legislators in attendance agreed that prevention efforts are necessary for the public good.

"There were some legislators last year that had no problem trying to put PCC's on the chopping block and it was seen as a badge of courage," Morris said. "It is shameful."

Berry, who serves on the House Committee on Human Services recounted serving as a pastor in the Northeastern Kingdom. In just a year and a half, he worked with six pregnant teenage girls and their families.

He's making advocating for this funding a priority, he said, in order to try and end the vicious cycle of poverty.

Miller encouraged Sunrise administration to delve into data to compare Bennington County with the rest of the state. The information could be valuable while her and others advocate for more funding.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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