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Wednesday, 02 April 2014 00:00

Stemming the sequester squeeze

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The federal sequester came back to haunt Macon County last month when commissioners voted to spend $13,000 to keep the county’s housing assistance program up and running. Commissioners had given Macon Program for Progress $12,000 at the beginning of the fiscal year to make up for the 30 percent reduction in administrative funds that the federal sequester caused. 

 

“We had to give them $12,000 to get them through, and it was assumed that money would come in for the rest of the year, but it didn’t,” said Commissioner Ronnie Beale. 

In a 4-1 vote, commissioners decided to appropriate $13,000 dollars more, money that will come from the general budget as contingency spending. Though Section 8 Housing is a federal program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Beale explained, local government has a responsibility to ensure that disruptions at the federal level don’t impact people who depend on its services. 

“The sequester really put the counties in a bind, but the service has got to continue,” Beale said. 

Commissioner Paul Higdon, who provided the sole nay vote, disagrees. He voted for the initial $12,000 but did not support the additional $13,000. 

“I don’t think the county and the local taxpayers should pick up programs the federal government chooses not to fund,” he said, “regardless of how good the program is.”

MPP, however, provides a service that’s been in heightened demand ever since the economy went south in 2008. The program manages about 150 housing units, which it rents out at a subsidized rate to people with qualifying incomes. It takes two people to oversee and administer the program, a cost of about $65,000, compared to the $650,000 MPP manages in housing payments. Though the sequester did not impact housing money, it did slice into the administrative side. 

“It’s very important we maintain the administrative part of it,” Beale said. 

And while housing dollars remain untouched, that’s not to say that what is there is sufficient to meet the need. Macon Program for Progress has long had a waiting list for housing, but that list has barely been open since the recession hit. 

“We closed our waiting list for the second time in 2012 for the fear we were giving folks false hope, having them fill out an application when we have a waiting list that will be sufficient to fill our housing for the foreseeable future,” said Macon Program for Progress executive director Charles Sutton.

The list closed for the first time in 2008, reopening for only a short period before closing again. 

“We are approved up to 224 units within Macon County but have never had the funds to support that,” Sutton said. 

Money’s always the problem, both for governments and for individuals, and it’s an issue likely to plague MPP and the people who use it for some time, Sutton said. 

“Until there is a significant uptick in the economy, that need will exist,” Sutton said. 

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