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In D.C., local nonprofits to appeal cuts

Hundreds of advocates nationwide look to talk to lawmakers about sequestration

As local human service agencies grapple with potential layoffs, pay cuts, and service reductions from sequestration, several agencies from Massachusetts plan to directly appeal to lawmakers in the nation’s capital this week.

The National Community Action Foundation’s legislative conference, scheduled to start Tuesday, will draw hundreds of advocates from all over the country to Washington, D.C., where sequestration promises to be a dominant topic.

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Joseph P. Diamond, executive director of the Massachusetts Association for Community Action, said the timing of the conference is fortuitous, and he and others plan to spend much of the week talking to lawmakers and administrators in various departments of the federal government to understand how sequestration will affect them.

Diamond said his group, which represents 24 nonprofit human service agencies that receive federal funding, hopes to meet with the Massachusetts delegation and “urge members to reach out to their colleagues in other states . . . to work together to stop or reverse the sequestration.”

Also attending the conference will be John J. Drew, president and chief executive officer of Action for Boston Community Development, a nonprofit antipoverty agency that he said is looking at laying off 100 staff members in various programs and stands to lose approximately $1.6 million to $1.8 million in federal funding for Head Start.

Drew said the agency will have no choice but to reduce the number of children served and staff for Head Start, which serves 2,500 low-income children under the age of 5 across the city. The agency will also consider pay cuts and reducing the number of Head Start locations.

“What we’re going to have to do is do our best to get our current [Head Start] program through until June,” said Drew.

‘I’ve already had to cut back. It’s been kind of a madhouse. . . . We have a lot of people depending on us. We’ve seen programmatic cuts . . . but never an abrupt cut in the middle of the year.’

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Drew said other programs at his organization were affected by the sequestration, even before it officially took effect Friday. When it didn’t receive as much money as anticipated for fuel assistance, Drew said they were informed a few weeks ago by legislators that the funding was being held “for sequestration.”

The same thing happened with funding for the agency’s family planning and health program, he said.

“I’ve already had to cut back,” said Drew. “It’s been kind of a madhouse. . . . We have a lot of people depending on us.”

Drew, who has been with the organization for 41 years, said he has lived through cuts in federal funding before, notably during the administrations of Nixon, Reagan, and Bush.

But those budget reductions were different, he said, because there was some discussion beforehand and opportunity to negotiate.

“We’ve seen programmatic cuts . . . but never an abrupt cut in the middle of the year,” he said.

Like many, he is unhappy with the way Congress has handled the situation.

“I’m very angry, as far as I’m concerned,” said Drew. “If you’re going to vote against Head Start, then do it.”

Drew estimated that “85 to 90 percent of our program participants are minorities. They’re taking the biggest hit.”

Drew’s organization is slated to meet with US Representative Edward J. Markey and his staff this week.

In an e-mailed statement, Markey said: “We need an army of activists to descend on Washington to talk about the real-world impacts of these arbitrary budget cuts on our kids, our seniors, and on middle and working class families everywhere. [Action for Boston Community Development] is the tip of the spear in this effort, leading the charge in Massachusetts to protect the neediest among us.”

Markey and US Representative Michael E. Capuano attended Action for Boston Community Development’s rally against sequestration in Boston last Monday.

“I think it’s crazy, and it will continue to be,” said Capuano. “People have to understand that the sequester is not an accident.” Legislators who favor “massive cuts to government” are getting their way, he said.

Diamond said the uncertainty of federal funding is not exactly new; for years, the federal government has failed to reach agreement on finalized budgets by deadline. Many nonprofit groups like his have grown accustomed to waiting until the last minute to find out what resources they will get.

“The new normal is that we’re lurching from one deadline to the next in the middle of fiscal years,” he said.

Still, he said, the sequestration cuts appear to be more biting than anything the organization has had to deal with in recent years.

“While cuts are not unusual, a wholesale automatic cut in middle of a fiscal year at this scale is unusual,” said Diamond.

Diamond said the sequestration “is a new experience,” and after making the rounds on Capitol Hill this week, “we’ll know more over the next few days.”

Martine Powers contributed to this report. Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney­@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.
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