Every year, tens of thousands of Union County residents find themselves, through no fault of their own, struggling to get by and provide for their families. A complex web of public and private programs to help these families break out of these difficult circumstances – a socio-economic “safety net” – have made a critical difference in their lives while fulfilling our moral obligation to be there for others.
As CEO of United Way of Greater Union County, our mission is to strengthen families and communities to help fulfill that moral obligation. That is why I am gravely concerned about the impact of the 2017 Federal Budget on our communities. Some of the largest and most beneficial of these public programs face elimination or several cutbacks.
This includes cuts to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program, which helps at-risk youth stay in school and off the streets; Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides critical support to families who can’t afford even basic heating or air conditioning; Community Services Block Grants, which help groups like United Way combat poverty, domestic violence and hardship for senior citizens; SNAP, without which millions of Americans cannot afford to feed their families; and many other worthy programs.
Together with our partner agencies, we support our representatives that are acting to defend pivotal programs like these. We must face the likelihood, however, that the social safety net will be strained beyond the point of effectively aiding most families facing these circumstances. The burden falls to us, on the local level, to stand with those in our communities in need – or these families will fall. It will be up to us to repair the safety net that these budget cuts will tear apart.
Hubert Humphrey, a great 20th century statesman once said, “The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” If our government will not meet this moral test, it is up to us to rise to meet it.
This is no ordinary time – it is a time for action, not thought. It is time for all of us to step up and do our part to support our communities – for families that will be harmed are living in all our communities. It is time for organizations and individuals to come together and collaborate, to identify how we may support as many people in as many places. This is no ordinary task, but I have no doubt that the generosity and commitment to helping others shared by so many of us across our region can ensure we do all that is morally expected of us in repairing the social safety net in our communities. Let us commit ourselves to this task, and we will do all that the values we hold require of us.
James W. Horne, Jr. has been CEO & President of United Way of Greater Union County since 2005. He currently serves as Chair on the Union County Human Services Advisory Council, serves on the board of the Union County Workforce Investment Board and Brand New Day, Inc. Additionally, James serves as an advisor for the Center for Excellence at Fairleigh Dickenson University. The center was designed as a resource to support emerging leaders who seek to increase their nonprofit organizations success while offering the opportunity for advisors to also mentor students. In October 2016, James was appointed to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Environmental Justice Advisory Council.