Cuts: Help agencies are finding it harder to provide for those in need. *iStock photo
Cuts: Help agencies are finding it harder to provide for those in need. *iStock photo
WEDNESDAY, APR. 20: Sweeping budget cuts have crippled Bermuda’s ability to help the most vulnerable at a time when they need it most.

With Government’s own Financial Assistance programme slashed by $1million, charities and non-profit aid agencies are struggling to pick up the slack.

Many are struggling to survive amid a double whammy of increased demand and diminishing funds. Focus drug and alcohol counselling, the Sunshine League Children’s Home and Age Concern were among the agencies to see their grants cut in half at the Budget.

The LCCA — which provides zero-interest loans for seriously ill patients to get treatment overseas —saw its grant reduced from $2 million to $1 million.

And the political mantra following Paula Cox’s cost-cutting budget was how Bermuda must do “more with less”.

Aid agencies say the reality is that they are having to do “less with less”.

The LCCA helped 90 critically ill patients get treated overseas last year. This year it will be able to help a maximum of 50.

Teen Services, which runs a school for pregnant teenagers as well as a home for young mums, has seen its budget slashed by almost 50 per cent. Director Michelle Wade said they would have to consider cutting some services if alternative donors could not be found.

Age Concern has already aborted plans for a new hotline designed to help the elderly because of substantial cuts to its grant.

Sandy Butterfield, of FOCUS addiction counselling, remains upbeat despite the cuts.

“We are struggling but we have all faith that Bermuda will come to our rescue. We are determined to stay open despite the budget cuts.”

She said the organization, which sees around 20 patients a day for drug and alcohol related “harm reduction” at its “clubhouse”, was looking to the private sector for much needed funds.

The agency, which also provides residential counselling for addicts, had its Government grant cut by 54 per cent to $216,000 for the coming financial year.

Veronica Harvey of the LCCA said its capacity to offer assistance had been drastically impacted by the cuts.

“We can only help as far as the money goes. We used to get $2million and now we get $1million. Last year we had 90 people. With half the budget we can probably do half as much.”

The organization is also funded by repayment of previous loans. But Ms Harvey said she was not expecting many patients to be paying back large amounts in the coming year.

“The repayments are likely to be less in this economy. Someone may have signed up to pay $500 a month but if they have lost their job they may only be able to pay $50 a month.”

She said it would be up to the Government to decide who was approved for an LCCA loan in the coming year and what limitations would be required to stretch the funding.

Other agencies, like Habitat for Humanity, don’t get Government grants. But they have been impacted by the cuts in the form of increased competition for corporate dollars.

Zakiya Johnson, interim president of the Sunshine League Children’s Home, said the $100,000 cut in its budget meant it would have to rethink its strategy. She said the board was currently in discussions to figure out how it would cope.

“The recent budget cuts and the impact of a struggling economy have resulted in the Sunshine League having to take a closer look at the direction of the organization. 

“These discussions are being undertaken with great care and with a desire to continue to meet the needs of Bermuda’s youth that are in the foster system.”

Nicola Feldman, director of the charity, which does home refurbishments for poor families living in hazardous conditions, said the impact of the financial crisis had left them underfunded at a time when they were needed most.

“Habitat for Humanity has faced significant difficulties with regard to successful grant applications and consequently is struggling to perform as effectively as it needs to be.”

Ms Feldman, also the producer of a new documentary Poverty in Paradise, highlighting the plight of women living below the poverty line in Bermuda, said the budget cuts would only make the issue worse.

Upheaval

“Times of social upheaval such as the current gang crisis are the critical moments when social programs are needed to help those in need but also to help prevent the next generation of children from growing into unproductive citizens.

“If we cut vital programmes and services now, we will only be repeating the cycles of violence, antisocial behaviour and poor decision making in the younger generations.”

Ms Wade, director of Teen Services, said the organisation was seeing an increase in demand for its services.

She said it was in the midst of forming a strategic plan which she hopes will allow it to continue operating at full capacity, despite the cuts.

She said ‘grassroots agencies’ could see first hand how demand for services was increasing.

“We have to go out there and look for dollars from donors.

“Everybody is trying their best to make their dollars work. We weren’t the only ones that got cut. It is very unfortunate.”

Claudette Fleming of Age Concern, said plans for a new hotline for the elderly had been dropped because of the decrease in the Government grant.

She said more pensioners were contacting the charity for help with basics like groceries and electric bills.

No new programmes

But she said its main role was to link needy seniors with the right services.

Age Concern is largely funded by the corporate sector and is better equipped than most to survive the grant reduction.

“We can’t grow any and we can’t put the communications systems in place that would help us become more efficient.

“There are no new programmes on the horizon for the forthcoming year.”

Zakiya Johnson, interim president of the Sunshine League Children’s Home, said the $100,000 cut in its budget meant it would have to rethink its strategy. She said the board was currently in discussions to figure out how it would cope.

“The recent budget cuts and the impact of a struggling economy have resulted in the Sunshine League having to take a closer look at the direction of the organization. 

“These discussions are being undertaken with great care and with a desire to continue to meet the needs of Bermuda’s youth that are in the foster system.”