YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

'Defender for Our Rights' in Peril : Budget Cut Threatens Pasadena Consumer Action Center

December 05, 1985|VICTOR VALLE | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — For each of the last 10 years Olivia Williams has been receiving routine legal advice and help with her income tax return at the federally funded Consumer and Community Action Center. Like hundreds of others, she cannot afford to pay for such services.

Now, because of cuts in funding from the state, the regional agency that administers the center is reducing its budget from $104,270 to $13,066. Unless it receives new funding, two of the center's staff members will be laid off by Jan. 1, and the remaining three will lose their jobs in March.

Serves Low-Income Residents

That means that Williams and others served by the center at the Jackie Robinson Center in the predominantly low-income northwest area of the city will have to look elsewhere for help.

But Williams, 65, who lives on a fixed income and has lost both legs as the result of a circulatory illness, said she cannot get to the only other similar agency in the San Gabriel Valley, a county-run program in El Monte, because Pasadena's dial-a-ride service does not go beyond city limits. "We need free help for income tax, wills, anything of importance, instead of going to an attorney we can't afford to pay," Williams said.

To another client, Maria de la Rosa, 69, the center "has been our defender for our rights. There are many needy people." But now, she said in Spanish, "everything will end for us."

The center is in jeopardy because Foothill Area Community Services Inc., which administers it, has decided to use most of the funds that might have been allotted to the center for 1986 to pay for what Foothill Area Community Services said are its own rising administrative and operating costs.

Blame Passed to State

Raymond Loftin, executive director of Foothill Area Community Services, which also operates Head Start, preschool and senior citizens programs, blames the center's financial problems on cuts in the federal funding his agency receives from the state. The center has operated on an annual budget of about $104,000 the last two years, most of which went to pay staff salaries, Loftin said.

Cuts in the center's funding have been protested by its staff and clients and have prompted city officials to consider making the center a city-funded program.

Clients and city officials are not the only people concerned by the decision to cut funding for the center.

"In terms of its effectiveness, there's no question about it. It's a good program, especially for the Spanish-speaking," said Seraphin Espinoza, a Pasadena community service worker who frequently refers consumers to the center.

Espinoza said the center's five-member bilingual staff, plus an attorney and tax preparer who donate their time, have helped residents from the city's heavily black and Latino northwest area tackle problems ranging from tenant-landlord disputes to translating job and welfare applications into English.

The center's services are available to all who need them, but the people who take advantage of them the most are the poor and the elderly, said Gilbert Moreno, director of the center. Moreno said his program helps an estimated 600 persons a month.

Officials with the state Office of Economic Opportunity said new formulas for determining how much each community is eligible to receive mean that, for the third year in a row, Foothill Area Community Services will get a smaller share of federal Community Service Block Grant funds from the state.

In 1982, Foothill Area Community Services received about $450,000 in federal block grant funds, Loftin said. This year, he said, Foothill Area Community Services received $354,274, and next year the agency is slated to receive only $254,807.

Funding Choice Cited

The cuts, Loftin said, have forced his agency to choose between funding the center or paying the agency's rising administrative costs. Agency records show that administrative expenses amounted to about 10% of the agency's overall $4.5 million budget for 1985.

If funding for the center is not restored, Loftin said, Foothill Area Community Services will try to use some of its personnel in Pasadena to handle some consumer and related problems.

Such assurances, however, have not stemmed the angry reaction of some residents and expressions of concern from city officials and the district director of the Pasadena office of the county Department of Public Social Services.

"We would miss them if they were not there," said Peter Young, Department of Public Social Services district director.

Young said his agency has traditionally referred its non-English speaking or functionally illiterate clients to the center for help in interpreting and filling out welfare forms. Closing the center will place an added burden on his staff and lengthen by as much as an hour the time clients will have to wait before being helped, he said.

Los Angeles Times Articles