I ONCE read about a torturer using a very sharp scalpel to make a thousand little cuts on his subject. The result was a slow death because of massive blood loss.
As executive director of Community Assistance Network Inc. (CAN), a nonprofit community action agency based in Dundalk, I in essence run a small business with a payroll to meet and a clientele, who are low-income earners to whom we provide services. My stockholders are you, the community, even if you don't realize it.
The further we progress into the year, the more I'm struck by the notion that many nonprofit agencies and the low-income clients we serve are subjects of a similar torture. The stockholders need to understand this because the community is bleeding right along with us.
The Bethlehem Steel buyout, United Way cuts, rising unemployment, budget deficits and disappearing surpluses - all of these and more are not just headlines. They are some of the many symptoms of a community in distress.
The federal, state and local governments that partially support our work are all experiencing budget problems. The foundations and corporations we also look to for funding are going through their own downward cycle. Individuals, faith-based groups and community organizations are all feeling the lint at the bottom of their pockets.
Our clients face their own cuts in the sense that their scant income suffers from similar nicks. Here the bus fare is raised 25 cents, there food and clothing costs go up and the water and sewer bill is increasing for the sixth time in eight years.
Nobody I know, other than those of us who experience it every day, tracks the cumulative effects of these cuts on an agency or families in need.
No one has the tally sheet prepared so that some impartial referee will look at the bottom line and say, "Enough is enough, start cutting someone else."
In other words, as with every other recession/depression/economic downturn, budgets will once again be balanced on the backs of those least able to afford it.
How come "a rising tide floats all boats" but the ebb tide does not sink all boats as well? Why do politicians and community leaders first point to programs and agencies that serve the most vulnerable of our people and say, "We can cut here"? Why are projects that directly benefit low-income families the first on the chopping block?
You, the 80 percent of community stockholders who can absorb the nicks, need to better understand the magnitude of the current budget cuts.
We all bleed when programs that help people overcome barriers to economic stability and success within the community are cut back severely.
This hemorrhaging is costing more than dollars and programs. We are squandering human potential in exchange for short-term gains and long-term losses.
As an example, here's Ms. A, a divorced mother of two with a 22-year work history who was dismissed from her job three months after buying her first home.
She had been earning about $55,000 per year. Months later, it's been practically impossible for her to find a job in her field paying anywhere near $55,000, child support and unemployment benefits do not cover her monthly expenses - which she has cut back severely - and her savings are about gone. Without CAN's help, she and her children might be homeless now, leaving behind another foreclosed property in the neighborhood.
You, just as Ms. A, have investments to protect. Your home and family, your neighborhood, the schools, the medical system, police, firefighters, the roads and much more are things you put money into that connect all of us within the community.
The 20 percent of our community who need more help making good connections should not be bled out to make the rest of us more comfortable.
Richard P. Doran is executive director of Community Assistance Network Inc.