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Budget cuts imperil N.J. nonprofits aiding disadvantaged

The Urban Women's Center of Camden may have to turn away more than 80 women, and could limit GED, computer training, and other classes.

The Urban Women's Center of Camden may have to turn away more than 80 women, and could limit GED, computer training, and other classes.

New Jersey's 15 Displaced Homemakers Centers may have to reduce hours and cut staff, creating longer waits for abused and financially needy women and their children.

And the Hispanic Social Service Center of Burlington County may have to limit funding of domestic programs for women, after-school activities for at-risk youths, and employment programs.

Across South Jersey and the entire state, proposed 10 percent cuts in aid grants from the Department of Community Affairs threaten to undermine the nonprofits offering services and financial support to thousands of women, minorities and military families, the organizations said yesterday.

"In this fiscal crisis, we have hard choices to make," said Margarita Hernandez, a founding member of the Better Choices Budget Campaign, composed of 41 organizations seeking long-term solutions to the state's budget problems.

"But rather than short-sighted cuts, we need to fund critical services like job training, and direct aid to families in need so that New Jersey can weather this recession and emerge stronger."

In Trenton, Department of Community Affairs spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said, "The global economic recession has presented substantial challenges for the current budget year, and difficult choices had to be made about very worthy programs.

"Despite the proposed cuts, these grants aren't being completely eliminated in the upcoming budget," she added. "Most of the grants will be preserved to help people who truly need assistance."

If funding reductions are approved, Burlington County groups such as the Women's Opportunity Center and the Spanish American Social Cultural Association (SASCA) said they could be forced to end job training workshops, cancel support groups for abuse survivors, and close outreach offices at a time when demand has increased.

"At a cost of only $800 per woman, our Displaced Homemakers Centers support and sustain women across New Jersey through the toughest periods in their lives," said Cathi Rendfrey, director of the Women's Opportunity Center in Mount Laurel and the legislative liaison for 15 centers around New Jersey.

"Cutting our programs is classically penny-wise, pound-foolish. We prevent these women from needing welfare assistance, strengthening their families, but also save taxpayer money in the long-term."

The Displaced Homemakers Centers across the state serve thousands of women and their children in times of separation, divorce and disability, or after the death of a spouse, the group's officials said. More than 500,000 women qualify and six out of 10 of them live in poverty, though many left middle-class marriages.

They receive career counseling, computer classes, work-readiness programs, job-club support, support groups, and legal education. Child care, emergency assistance, scholarships, and training also can be arranged with the help of other community groups.

"Need is rising, funding is disappearing, and philanthropy is on the decline," said Jose Ramos, executive director of the Hispanic Social Service Center (SASCA) of Burlington County, a multilingual organization that helps 3,000 Hispanic clients a year. "Last year was bad, this year was worse, and next year may be a real question of sustainability for our organization."