Originally created 01/13/04

Cuts add to agency's burden



AIKEN - The United Way of Aiken County has about $13,000 less this year in federal aid earmarked for emergency food and shelter programs that are critical during winter months, officials said.

The drop in funding - to $61,000 - from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is indicative of an overall shortage of financial assistance being seen by various local and state agencies that depend on money from the government, said Dee Stanford, the vice president of the United Way.

When groups such as the South Carolina Department of Social Services receive less funding from the state, more people in need show up at the United Way, Ms. Stanford said.

She said her agency has seen more demand in the past year than in the past 30 years she's worked there.

"The money is shrinking up," she said. "People are looking for jobs that aren't there. We've got people who are trying to live without heat."

The United Way supports more than 30 agencies in Aiken County, which must apply to receive a slice of the group's federal funding. Golden Harvest Food Bank, which gave out more than 1 million pounds of food last year, and the Salvation Army both rely on help from the United Way.

"We actually depend on that," said Rusty Marsh, the South Carolina administrator for Golden Harvest.

The agency has a $323,600 operating budget running from October to September, but only about $15,000 of that is spent to buy food. Golden Harvest relies on the U.S. Department of Agriculture and donations for most of its food.

The agency sees a steady stream of need throughout the year, Mr. Marsh said, but the poor tend to struggle more during winter months, when heating bills are more expensive.

"They're going to have to make the choice to either pay utility bills or buy more food," he said.

The Salvation Army has seen the number of people searching for shelter double from about 10 to more than 20, said Capt. Juan Guadalupe. He attributed the jump to tough economic times.

"People are kind of struggling right now," he said.

Aiken County's average unemployment rate in 1998 was 4.6 percent, according to the South Carolina Employment Security Commission. It was at 5.2 percent in November, the most recent figure available.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803)279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.