America's Social Safety Net is Being Torn Apart by Budget Cuts

State and municipal governments are slashing their appetite for spending, while more and more personal pocket books are lean if not empty. Slimming down is always good for personal health, but forced economic diets can provoke havoc on those struggling with poverty.

The Urban Institute recently confirmed what many on the front lines of America's homelessness already know -- the institutional caregivers are cutting their budgets. In fact, 82 percent of America's human-service agencies are scaling back their operations because of this dire economy.

Social service agencies have been hit hard with government cuts. During the recent political battle over California's budget, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed nearly $1 billion of spending for social welfare and services.

Reducing the "fat" in an agency's budget is one way to survive the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, but cutting essential programs, or the "meat," causes suffering for those people desperately in need of help.

The outcome is stark. Eliminate a 45 bed homeless shelter for the sake of saving money, and 45 people end up on the streets. Cut a jobs program, and less people will find employment.

I recently shared with the Board of Directors of the agency I run that three homeless agencies recently closed their doors because of severe funding cuts. One agency had been in operation for more than half a decade.

Almost every agency director I know has told me they are making severe budget cuts, from 20 percent layoffs or furloughs, to eliminating crucial programs.

The capacity for this country to serve and house our poor is being starved to death. It will take decades for our social service safety net to be woven back together.

With the recent passing of California's state budget, experts already have called the balanced budget a farce. Political leaders have basically forwarded $19 billion of expenses onto next year for the next Governor to grapple. With a projected multi-billion dollar deficit already in the works, everyone knows social service spending will be the first on the chopping board.

A bail out is needed for America's social safety net in order to rebuild a tattered, under-funded anti-poverty system on a scale of the $700 billion bank bailout in 2008. Otherwise, this country teeters on the brink of social insolvency.