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Housing, early education emerge as CMCA priorities

Housing, early education emerge as CMCA priorities

February 7th, 2018 by Allen Fennewald in Local News

Central Missouri Community Action recently unveiled its new strategic plan, which will place more focus on two of its most impactful programs — Head Start and the Housing Choice Voucher program.

The new plan comes at a time when CMCA is tightening its belt and focusing its resources, after about $2 million was cut from its budget, now approximately $14 million. Chief Program Officer Angela Hirsch said CMCA already was planning to refocus its programming, but the budget decrease put these changes on the fast track.

CMCA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is part of the national network of Community Action agencies founded in 1964. The network's mission is to remove the causes and conditions of poverty in the communities it serves by providing services like youth education, housing assistance and family support programs. Its service area consists of Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Cole, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau and Osage counties.

Under the new strategic plan, CMCA will focus more resources on families in the two programs working with clients on a long-term basis.

CMCA anticipates serving 75 Head Start families and 90 housing voucher families in Cole County. Moniteau County has at least 27 Head Start families and five housing voucher families.

"We can really focus on those families for an intensive, long period of time to help them identify, set and reach goals that will move them out of poverty," Hirsch said. "In the past, we have had funding where we could really open up that family support to virtually any income eligible family who was interested in working that long-term program.

"Because of some funding changes that we have experienced in this fiscal year, we are no longer able to offer that openly."

Head Start

Head Start is a federal program for children ages 3-5 from low-income families to participate in various educational activities. CMCA staff members help parents with medical and dental care, offer healthy food and supervise children playing in a safe setting. Similar services are available to infants and toddlers with the Early Head Start program.

CMCA is seeking private funding to expand the Bridge program, currently operating only in Boone County, to all eight counties it serves within three years. Hirsch said the program continues the family support aspect of Head Start through third grade, and CMCA has seen the impact it has made by better connecting families with educators like teachers and administrators.

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"Helping to develop that relationship between those educators and low-income families has really had a great impact on the relationship between families and schools, and that's the ultimate goal," Hirsch said. "Educators (need to) understand the realities of poverty and children coming from low-income homes, and some of the challenges that some of the kids may face. So, we've seen a greater understanding of teachers who may recognize the struggles low-income families may have."

Companies or private individuals interested in sponsoring the Bridge program are encouraged to contact CMCA.

Housing Choice Vouchers

The HCV program provides rental assistance to low-income individuals and families in Callaway (except in Fulton), Cole, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau and Osage counties. Participants can live in the house, condo, duplex, townhouse, apartment or mobile home of their choice, as long as it meets health and safety standards, as determined by Mid-Missouri Public Housing Agency. The subsidy is paid to the landlord by MMPHA, and participants are responsible for the remaining rent payment.

CMCA is attempting to expand this program after the Housing Development Commission rejected allocating $140 million to continue funding the Missouri Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program, which encouraged companies to invest in low-income housing projects.

Gov. Eric Greitens said the money would be better spent improving the state's roads, bridges and ports.

Executive Director Darin Preis said CMCA is disappointed with the decision.

"I think it's very unfortunate," Preis said. "Affordable housing is one of the greatest needs in our state, and certainly in Central Missouri. We know that there are families who have 50, 60, 70 percent of their income going toward housing, and all too often, it's not even very quality housing. So losing that support from the state, I think, is really a misstep on behalf of the state. We are missing out on a lot of opportunities to help stabilize households so that they can be productive citizens."

Since there is less incentive to build new low-income housing, CMCA will focus on recruiting more landlords of existing homes to accept Housing Choice Vouchers. Hirsch said some landlords have a stigma against renting to low-income people, but CMCA is combating this by working with its clients on communication and financial management skills to improve potential relationships between low-income renters and landlords.

Other changes

To meet the goals of its new strategic plan, CMCA will not accept walk-in requests for case management support, a program that helps families access assistance services from area support groups, set short- and long-term goals, plan a budget, and begin to work their way out of poverty. Case management services still will be available for those who contact CMCA, but the agency will not follow up with these clients as it once did.

"The only thing that we are limiting is that walk-in for families that aren't participating in either the Head Start or the Housing Choice Voucher program for that family support work," Hirsch said. "We are still ensuring that all of our other services — weatherization, LIHEAP energy assistance, the foster grandparent program, the women's business center, all of those services — are still available to income-eligible families."

Preis said CMCA will work with area schools and churches to ensure anyone in need of case management and other services will be able to access assistance programs.

CMCA also will consolidate some of its service locations to support the new service model. Hirsch said possible consolidations are still under consideration, but Moniteau County is low on the list of possible locations to consolidate.