Columbia leaders target poverty

Despite recent cuts, city funding for social services remains steady

COLUMBIA, Mo. - The 2014 Columbia budget goes into effect in less than two weeks after the council passed it unanimously on Monday. ABC 17 News found funding for social services remains at the same levels as 2009. It's happening at a time when there's still a high percentage of Columbia residents living in poverty.

Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes said in the past few years, most of the departments have seen cuts, but social services has kept its current funding. He says fighting poverty is high on the city's priority list. But getting more money for it may be tough to do.

Columbia city leaders say fixing poverty is one of the toughest jobs they have. They realize there will always be someone needing help. But in a time where the budget is still extremely tight, city leaders can only fund social services enough to ensure its programs can work at adequate levels.

"It gets better or worse depending on the economy and how many opportunities there are out there, so the idea of ever fixing it so there isn't poverty is hard to think through," Matthes said.

According to numbers from the city, in 2009 social services was funded at $903,743. Since then, funding has remained at $893,556. Meanwhile, 23 percent of residents are living in poverty, 38 percent of Columbia Public Schools students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, and about 16 percent of all children live below the poverty line.

"You're very often dealing with a single-parent family with one, two, three children in the household, mother who is trying to figure out if she is going to be able to work and maintain her job, and if so, how does she afford day care," Heartland of Missouri United Way Executive Director Tim Rich said.

Charity leaders said people should be thankful the city hasn't cut funding more than it has. They believe the city is trying to help.

"The idea that we need to look to the city to solve the problems I think is a flawed one. I think we ought to be looking to one another as an entire community," Rich said.

Officials with the Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri said they've seen unprecedented demand. They claim last year to now, they've seen a 21 percent increase in the number of people needing help. They said they're also starting to see people with jobs coming in needing help.

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