In response to California’s budget crisis, legislators and the governor have passed a budget fix that takes needed funds from our local governments. This isn’t new. When politicians are forced to cut, they seldom cut bureaucracies; they cut local services.
Ventura’s Deputy Mayor Bill Fulton observed: “The state budget deal has proved once again that we…just can’t count on the state. If we are going to maintain the quality of life in our communities, it’s time to take control of our own destiny.“
In ages past, Americans were far more focused on their local communities. News of national catastrophes would take days before it could be covered; international news even longer. The papers focused on local problems. When Martha crashed her car, they’d cover the local church woman's group taking casseroles to Martha’s family. They'd show a community coming together to rebuild a fire-damaged barn.
We were a powerful people, because we could handle the problems we faced. Those local stories and problems still happen today, but they’re often buried in the back pages of the newspaper. Too many have been numbed into inaction by distant wars, large-scale disasters and economic downturns that are beyond our ability to fix. Instead of being powerless observers watching the news, it’s time to make a little news.
The local needs are growing, and the state’s “budget” fix is a house of cards waiting to collapse. With insufficient revenue numbers, an explosion in employee benefit and entitlement costs, and growing state unemployment, there are likely to be more service cuts and raids on local government funds.
Our nation may be politically divided, but when people in our midst are in need, we tend to put those differences aside. Lynn Bulock, community educator with the Ventura County Homeless & Housing Coalition, has seen that unity in action: “Homelessness and poverty are issues that tend to bring us together. No child should sleep on the streets, or in a car. When the Ventura City Council was considering resolutions on homelessness in May, over 130 people rallied on the steps of City Hall. They were led by a collection of faith leaders you don't usually see standing shoulder-to-shoulder: a Unitarian minister, an Episcopal priest, a UMC pastor, a Reform rabbi, the local head of the Salvation Army and several evangelical pastors. Since that rally, they’ve stuck together to bring fresh ideas to the Ventura Social Services Task Force. “
Lynn noted, “Most homeless people are invisible, but local non-profits who help the homeless and those in danger of becoming homeless are seeing intact, two-parent families in larger numbers. There’s also an increase of women with children. They just don't earn enough money to keep a roof over their head. Social service agencies like Lutheran Social Services and Catholic charities tell us that a ‘normal’ outlay to keep a family housed is a one-time payment of $500-$800. This is often enough to get somebody through a disaster—a sick family member with no insurance, their only vehicle breaking down, or a cut in hours for a wage-earner.”
Our budget-strapped government can’t be the only answer. While fighting the state budget cuts, local governments will use their limited funds on vital public services and in stimulating more economic growth. Denis Weber, current mayor of Agoura Hills commented on the difference volunteers make: “We’re joining in lawsuits with other cities to fight the state’s decision to take local funds. We’re also trying to support our local businesses. People don’t want handouts; they want jobs. But until those jobs become available, some need help. You can’t put a price tag on the volunteer work done in our communities that is done for free. As a rotating mayor of a city, you’re the face of the community, and you get more of the calls. You see the need, and you see volunteers making a difference every day. Every politician wants to leave a legacy, but you soon realize that the greatest legacy you can leave is to tell their story and to shine the light on the volunteers who fill the gaps in these tough times. We in government need to find a way to connect needs with people willing to help because those needs are getting bigger. I just hope more citizens get involved.”
With vital charities and programs in desperate need for funds and volunteers, the opportunity for you to make a difference has never been more important. Challenge your faith community to post service opportunities beyond the walls of your sanctuary. Walk your neighborhood. Start conversations; take note of the needs that surface, and work together to help where you can.
We are not powerless. By making a difference locally, you won’t just help your neighbor; you’ll recharge your “purpose” batteries and help us reclaim the power of community that helped make America great!