The Arizona Daily Star Tucson, Saturday, March 1, 1997
Groups decry Interfaith Council's plan to aid working poor
By Alisa Wabnik
The Arizona Daily Star
A new proposal to help the working poor has a started a feud among some social service leaders, pitting rural concerns against those of the central city. Pima County Interfaith Council formally introduced its Proposal to community, government and business leaders yesterday at a two-day economic summit at El Pueblo Neighborhood Center, 101 W. Irvington Road. The group - a coalition of about 50 churches, 12 schools and several adult education centers - wants $10 million over the next five years to start a "Family Development Fund," which would provide scholarships or loans to help move working poor families into better jobs. In return, recipients must make a five-year commitment to the program for training, work and mentoring others.
"We're not about welfare," Kevin Courtney, a member of the PCIC steering committee told about 100 people at yesterday's forum.
"We're not talking about a handout. But some rural service providers who boycotted the meeting say that's exactly what the organization is seeking for itself. We don't even have a $10 million-a-year budget, yet they want a blank check to be written basically to an organization that has no track record," said John Arnold, who helped form the Arizona Rural Human Services Network.
The service network a coalition of 33 agencies serving rural areas of Pima and Santa Cruz counties, is circulating a resolution decrying PCIC's "tactics of preying upon the poor" and lack of accountability.
"We're not against anybody that wants to help. We're just against the way they do it," said Billie Donohue, president of the network and executive director of the Picture Rocks Community Center.
"They come in with a whole lot of their people, and they browbeat you, and they order you around. They demand you comply with what they want.
We don't need a new kid on the block coming in and taking over," Donohue said.
Despite the rural coalition's assertion of unanimous support for its resolution, not all member organizations are backing the boycott.
"I can't take a side and say one's better or worse," said Punch Woods, director of the Community Food Bank. "I think any group of citizens who are concerned about social welfare or justice need to be listened to."
The rural agencies argue @ PCIC's plan duplicates existing services, and that its request for government funding could violate the separation of church and state. Concerns about duplication also influenced the United Way of Greater Tucson's decision earlier this year to refuse PCIC's request for $1 million, said Richard White, vice president for marketing and communications. But Frank Pierson, PCIC's lead organizer, said the effort modeled on the G.I. Bill would augment, rather than replace, existing services.
"I think this is a way to increase the community's commitment overall to job training, "Pierson said.
Pierson said PCIC wants city and county dollars from the general fund, rather than money from agency budgets.
And he said the monies would be controlled by a 25-person, non-profit corporation of business and community leaders, avoiding any possible church/state violations.
The proposal is similar to a program called "Project Quest" in San Antonio, said Ernesto J, Cortes Jr., southwest regional director of the Industrial Areas Foundation, a leadership training institute to which PCIC belongs. In 1955, PCIC arranged for about 20 Tucson leaders -including developer Donald Diamond and county Supervisor Raul Grijalva- to visit San Antonio and examine the program, Cortes said. An evaluation of its success last year by a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that 80 percent of the 1,000 people who started the program unemployed or in low paying jobs found higher-paying work, were in college or joined the military by program's end he said. Diamond, who attended part of Yesterday's meeting, was skeptical that Tucson could draw the necessary jobs without providing better infrastructure and incentives for business.
"The signal that goes out ... is a negative signal for big business," Diamond said. "It's not hurting me. It's hurting the people that we're concerned about. Supervisor Sharon Bronson, a Democrat who represents the heavily rural District 3, praised PCIC's goals but said that -"we have agencies already doing the things that PCIC wants to do.
"But Grijalva, a Democrat from District 5, called the proposal "doable".
"I don't necessarily think it's duplication," said Grijalva, whose district includes the south and west sides. Unlike many social service programs, "you're treating the person as a student and consumer, and not a client.
"But rural agencies, already feeling overlooked, disagree."We're talking about taking $1O million, desperately needed money from proven organizations, and giving it to a religious group with no track record," said Project PPEP's Arnold. "To me, it's an abomination".