Economic and Community Needs

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With this economic crisis, community assistance requests have increased. Arizona Community Action Association Executive Director Cynthia Zwick talks about how the association brings together community groups statewide to help families immediately and to work on long-term strategies for their future.

José Cárdenas
>> As the economy continues to struggle, so does the increased demand for help when it comes to health and human services. Joining me to talk about how agencies are being affected is Cynthia Zwick, executive director for the Arizona community action association. Cynthia, it's good for you to be back on "Horizonte." we were focused last time on the monies that the federal government provides to states to deal with utility bills. Tell us where things stand now. It was a dire situation last time you were here.

Cynthia Zwick
>> It was dire and the situation is still dire but it's getting better. Thanks to the efforts of the governor and others, congress appropriated $5 billion for liheap funding nationally. Arizona will receive $30 million which is great for us; we had been receiving $9 million previously.

José Cárdenas
>> So it's a $30 million increase or $21 million increase

Cynthia Zwick
>> $21 million increase. Which is great

José Cárdenas
>> What's the money used for?

Cynthia Zwick
>> For bill assistance for low-income families who are unable to pay their utility bills. Any kind of utility bill. A portion can be used to weatherize homes to make them more energy efficent. But the majority goes to bill assistance directly.

José Cárdenas
>> How great is the need given this time of year, where the temperature is pretty moderate for Arizonans?

Cynthia Zwick
>> The need is still great because utility bills are having gone up significantly over the last year and a half or so. Most of the utilities have received rate increases; the average bill has gone up about $100 per household. Prior to the economic crisis, we had about 500,000 eligible households. Before we received the $30 million, we were able to serve about 28,000 households. There's a huge gap. With the additional money, we believe we'll be able to serve 78,000 households total. So an additional 50,000

José Cárdenas
>> And what does that mean to serve them? How much money do the families get?

Cynthia Zwick
>> The maximum that a family can receive on an annual basis, every 12 months, is $600. So it's still a small amount but it helps.

José Cárdenas
>> You made a reference to the current economic crisis. How has that impacted both of liheap situation and the demands for health and human services?

Cynthia Zwick
>> The request for utility assistance is rising significantly. Utilities are disconnecting more households than ever before and they're seeing a significant increase in that percentage. Were seeing 50,000 households being disconnected over the first nine months of the year. That was for primary low-income households. With the economic crisis, about a 60% increase in the number of families seeking assistance at various agencies across the state. Whether it is a community action, food bank, faith based organization that provides support. So there are more families needing help paying there bills and with all of the other basic needs.

José Cárdenas
>> can you give us specific examples of the impact on the agencies, have there been cutbacks in services?

Cynthia Zwick
>> There have because cut backs in services due to reduced funding. As you know and probably everybody is aware, the state is facing a significant budget deficit right now, which is expected to get worse in the short term. As a result of that, agencies are also seeing reductions in budgets and resources available. Additionally, philanthropic giving tends to go down when the economy deteriorates so the government funding is shrinking and the need is increases, so agencies are reducing their staffs at the same time they're seeing an increase demand in the state.

José Cárdenas
>> let me jump back to liheap. You talked about the state agencies who were having their budgets cut back, any concern that the money that is coming from the federal government to the state and then gets distributed, that some of that may get swept --

Cynthia Zwick
>> We're concerned about that. What we've heard, though, we haven't -- none of the budgets have been finalized, but we've heard about $2 million of the new liheap money is being threatened by being swept through the deficit reduction process. What that means essentially about $1.9 million may be taken away from agencies to get back on track.

José Cárdenas
>> And these are dollars over and above what the department -- is it the department of economic security, would have a cliam to?

Cynthia Zwick
>> Yes.

José Cárdenas
>> In terms of covering their administrative costs.

Cynthia Zwick
>> That's our understanding, its administrative money.

José Cárdenas
>> going back to the local agencies, some of them private nonprofits that are serving the needy in the community, can you give us more specifics about what they're doing in terms of cutbacks and how that's impacting the community?

Cynthia Zwick
>> you know, all of the agencies right now are in the process -- the nonprofits are sort in their mid year budget cycle and the government agencies many of which provide human service services in Arizona are proposing their budgets for the coming year. The city of phoenix is facing some significant cuts or looking at the potential closure of senior centers, family service centers, and other nonprofits are reducing staff in order to make budgets balance. What that means is the money that's available is harder to expend, you know, in situations where the need is continuing to increase. As I said, previously, we're seeing increases of around 60% across the board.

José Cárdenas
>> In terms of the demand?

Cynthia Zwick
>> Of the demand, exactly.

José Cárdenas
>> What's the plan? What's your organization doing to deal with this crisis?

Cynthia Zwick
>> Arizona community action association has brought together -- we've convened a number of meetings to bring together representatives from around the state, public sector, private, human services, faith, to do a couple of things. To find out what we can do right now to increase resources available for members of our community who are in trouble. The demographic is changing. We're seeing middle class families showing up needing assistance. We're trying to figure out how to raise resources. The other thing is creating a better communication system so we know who has resources available throughout the state. Typically what happens there's a network of services and numbers that are available and what happens is you call a number, that agency may or may not have resources to support a family, we send them to another agency and it becomes a cycle of inability to serve. We try to interrupt that cycle and get people to where they need to be and provide guidance. Many times there are not resources available. The other thing, we're launching the changing face of poverty campaign. One, it's to go raise awareness about this issue and ask members in local communities to help their neighbors. If you're aware that someone needs help -- I'm sorry.

José Cárdenas
>> We've got 20 seconds left. Federal government, can we expect help from them?

Cynthia Zwick
>> We can. We're seeing additional money in liheap. And additional funding coming through for weatherization and energy efficiency and potentially case management funding through the community service block grant fund.

José Cárdenas
>> Executive director Zwick thanks for being on "Horizonte."

Cynthia Zwick
>> thanks very much.

Cynthia Zwick:Executive Director, Arizona Community Action Association;

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