In Schenectady, the waiting list for Head Start is long: approximately 343 children.
But the Schenectady Community Action Program, the nonprofit organization that runs Head Start, sees an opportunity for expansion.
The federal economic stimulus package contains $2 billion to expand Head Start programs throughout the country, and SCAP is applying for a slice of the pie — about $1 million — to create a new Head Start site with six classrooms and slots for 90 children.
Head Start is a preschool program for low-income children ages 3 to 5.
“We have such a huge need in Schenectady County,” said Keith Houghton, who directs SCAP’s Head Start. “There’s an increasing amount of child poverty.”
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the federal economic stimulus package, aims to spark the economy by funding infrastructure and energy programs, education and public safety. But it also contains money for programs that assist low-income people. Now, area organizations are applying for grants they say will help them meet an ever-increasing demand.
“In the past year, our numbers have increased significantly,” said Julie Hoxsie, executive director of the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council.
In Schenectady, a coalition that works with the needy is seeking funding from the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program. The goal is preventing eviction and a lengthy stay in a shelter.
“We’re looking to help people who are in danger of losing their homes,” said Peggy Anderton, executive director of Bethesda House, one of the groups spearheading the project. “We want to help them manage their debt or arrears.”
She said the idea is to help people who have fallen on hard times due to a job loss or other calamity, rather than people with chronic problems paying rent: “We’re looking at people who don’t have a reputation as bad tenants.”
Also involved are SCAP, the YWCA of Schenectady, the Schenectady Inner City Ministry and Legal Aid. If approved, the funding would allow these agencies to hire additional staff and create a pool of money that could be used to help with rent, security deposits or arrears.
The city of Albany is also receiving homelessness funds — about $1.5 million, according to Ira Mandelker, executive director of the Homeless and Travelers Aid Society in Albany.
More people in need
The Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council is also looking to expand programming using stimulus money.
Like many nonprofits, the EOC began seeing sharp increases in demand last year, before the recession was official. Hoxsie attributed much of the surge to high gas prices. Forced to pay $4 a gallon to fill up their cars, many people turned to the EOC food pantry for help.
In the past year, food pantry usage has jumped 11 percent, she said.
The organization wants to expand two Head Start programs: Head Start and Early Head Start, which serves children as young as 6 weeks. Some of the money will be designated for salaries — “funding has been flat,” Hoxsie said — and improving facilities. The rest will be used to add more slots for children. Right now, there are 109 children on the waiting list for Head Start and 99 children on the waiting list for Early Head Start. There are 10 Head Start sites throughout the county.
The stimulus package contains $5 billion for weatherization, with about $404 million for New York. Using this money, the EOC plans to double its weatherization program, which helps low-income people save on energy costs by insulating their homes. Funding will increase from $900,000 to $1.8 million, and the number of households served will jump from 200 to 400.
A $360,000 community service block grant will enable the EOC to expand its family development program. With the stimulus funding, the family development program will offer new classes in subjects such as financial literacy and job retention and hire three new caseworkers. Currently, one caseworker works with 25 families. The grant will also allow the EOC to continue offering services for Latinos, such as its English as a Second Language class.
Hoxsie said the stimulus funding is great, but she worries about what will happen if it runs out.
“We love being able to help more people, but it’s difficult because we won’t have it forever,” she said.
She wondered, for instance, whether the Head Start expansion would be permanent or whether the EOC would be forced to downsize the program when the funding dries up.
New York received approximately $130 million for Head Start and Early Head Start expansion.
The Albany-based Capital District Community Loan Fund, which provides loans to small businesses and nonprofits with an emphasis on female- and minority-owned businesses and economic development in rural and urban areas, is applying for a couple of grants. These would provide about $2 million in additional lending capital and about $40,000 for technical assistance such as software improvements.
“When you count our pending loans and the ones we have in the pipeline, we’re committed to about $3.4 million,” said Linda Chandler, loan fund development manager. “We need lending capital. We don’t want to turn anyone away.
“We feel that we’re a perfect example of a shovel-ready project,” Chandler said. “We’re ready to go.”
The CDCLF serves 11 counties, including Schenectady, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Fulton and Montgomery.
Stimulus money will also enable Better Neighborhoods Inc. in Schenectady to build affordable “green” houses for low-income families. The organization has already partnered with the city to build three LEED-certified houses — buildings earn LEED certification by meeting federal benchmarks for environmentalism — and will now be able to build 10 more, according to executive director Ed August.
Some groups are unsure which grants they’ll apply for because they’re still discussing which programs would best meet their needs.
“We’re definitely going to,” said Laura Alpert, vice president of communications for the Northeast Parent and Child Society, when asked whether the organization would be applying for stimulus money. “We’re in the planning stages. We’re looking at all opportunities.”
In February, President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which provides $800 billion for projects designed to stimulate the flailing economy.
New York is expected to receive $26.7 billion for programs such as Medicaid, education, infrastructure and other “shovel-ready” projects.
The stimulus package also includes $253 million in affordable housing grants for New York, and the state expects to provide nearly 8,000 units of new affordable housing. For instance, Clifton Park Senior Apartments will receive more than $3 million to construct a new 70-unit, three-story rental building for low-income elderly people.