In an economic recession, when a business is losing money, it’s usually because there are fewer customers.

For Catholic Charities, the social service wing of the Archdiocese of Portland, it’s a matter of less cash flow and more people to serve.

Reduction in public money has already been felt in the current Catholic Charities budget and more cuts are expected when counties decide on funding in June. In Oregon, most public social service funds are distributed by counties.

In Oregon, Catholic Charities provides low-cost housing, disaster relief, aid for pregnant girls and women, adoption services, support for immigrants, resettlement for refugees and aid to victims of human trafficking.

“We are anticipating that there are going to be some reductions,” says Doug Alles, social services director for Catholic Charities.

It’s early to know exactly which of the dozens of fund streams will be cut back by Multnomah and Clackamas county commissioners. But almost all programs at Catholic Charities will be at risk. About half of the agency’s money comes from public sources.

Private donations — the other half of the income — has been dropping as contributors see their savings plummet with the stock market.

“There is really no high ground in this economic downturn,” Alles says.
Multnomah County Commission Chair Ted Wheeler has said that cuts will not be across the board, but will be targeted. The state’s most populous county faces a $35 million shortfall.

“This is the ninth straight year that the county has had to cut its budget,” says Commissioner Jeff Cogen. “We are past the fat, past the flesh and deep into the bone. Simply put, our safety net is shredded; our public safety at risk.”

Even while the slipping economy has meant less county revenue, it has also meant there are more people in need of the help Catholic Charities offers. The agency’s pregnancy support work has logged a 66-percent increase in demand.

El Programa Hispano, which provides a variety of services to Spanish-speakers, reportsa 72-percent boost in those asking for aid.

Alles says Catholic Charities may be faced with triage, sending workers to do what is most urgent. That kind of tough discernment, he says, has always been a part of the mission. St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic lay social service organization, tends to stay away from direct public funds. That means budget cuts will be less necessary for the mostly-volunteer organization.

But as publicly-funded agencies are forced to reduce services, demand will increase for St. Vincent de Paul’s food boxes, prescription drug vouchers and rent and utility aid. In Portland, requests for help from St. Vincent de Paul rose 55 percent during 2008.

Sharon Hills, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul in Portland, says reductions to Oregon Food Bank funding could have a pass-through affect.

In Medford, the all-volunteer St. Vincent de Paul has increased its annual allocation by 26 percent to try to cover a surge in need. “And that may not be enough,” says Len Hebert, president of the council.

In Eugene, a St. Vincent de Paul may be forced to cut a job-training program by about a fourth because of state funding cuts. That would reduce the number of trainee positions by 20.

In the last six months, St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County has fielded 20,000 requests for help from those who are asking for the first time.

Catholic agencies nationwide are facing funding cuts. In California, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Stockton has seen a $100,000 reduction, or almost half its budget. That is part of the $500 million Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger slashed from state spending in October to meet a budget shortfall. Now, California faces a $42 billion deficit, so more cuts are coming.

Catholic Charities officials in Stockton have already reduced staff by half. In Washington, Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature are grappling with a projected $8 billion budget deficit. Catholic Charities in the Spokane Diocese lost $50,000 for housing services. A January survey of Catholic Charities agencies nationwide showed that about 20 percent of agencies had cut basic needs programs while 16 percent of agencies were forced to reduce housing assistance. Of the agencies cutting programs, 56 percent laid off staff.

“In many ways our agencies are in uncharted waters,” said Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA.

The economic stimulus bill recently passed by Congress and signed by President Obama has funds to help states meet the growing need for social services, but Father Snyder said how soon that money will make its way to the agencies is unknown.
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Portland last week reached its goal of $12.5 million to pay for its new administration and service center.

— Catholic News Service contributed to this story.