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Budget Cuts Impact Government and Community Programs for Poor, Says Marwell

By James Devitt

Budget cuts in the federal, state and local government spending for the 2002 fiscal year will have an enormous impact not only on individuals who benefit from government programs, but also on community organizations, according to Columbia professor Nicole Marwell, CC '90.

Marwell is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and the Latina/o Studies Program at Columbia's Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race.

"When we talk about funding cuts in government services, it really means cuts to non-profits because over last 40 years government has increasingly contracted its services to private non-profits," said Marwell. "When such cuts occur, these organizations' ability to meet the needs of their communities becomes compromised because there is not alternative financial support.

"Budget cutting also undermines the credibility of community non-profit organizations because individual beneficiaries blame the non-profits when these groups no longer have the funding to provide services," she added.

The Bloomberg administration has proposed cutting $5 billion from New York City's budget for the fiscal year 2002 in an attempt to close an inherited budget gap.

"Even though the administration is making sure to distribute the cuts evenly, the people who will feel these cuts the most are those most dependent on city services for their well-being," said Marwell.

New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, CC '78, has proposed a five percent across-the-board spending cut for all state departments, also in an effort to reduce an inherited deficit.

Marwell, currently working on a book on community organizations and political activity, has found that some organizations have engaged in political work in order to remain financially solvent.

"Among the government decisions that are truly important is how government contracts are distributed, and community organizations need someone in government to advocate for them during this process," said Marwell. "The best advocate is typically the elected official.

"However, the community organization needs to give something back, which is usually votes, especially if a community organization is in a poor area and cannot afford to make campaign contributions," she added. "In this way, community organizations are both a fulcrum for the distribution of government resources to the populations they serve and the mobilization of voters within their neighborhoods."

Marwell noted that this process serves as a political education for members of a community.

"A community organization's constituents begin to understand the link between voting behavior and the resources available to them," she said. "Once you raise that level of understanding, you can mobilize voters while providing a reliable constituency to local elected officials."

Published: Apr 01, 2002
Last modified:Sep 18, 2002

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