Earmarks Ban Leaves Local Groups Scrambling

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Congress’s moratorium on earmarks – spending measures quietly tacked on to legislation – wins support from many voters and government watchdogs. But the ban on earmarks has some Central Ohio organizations scrambling to find other ways to pay for programs expected to get help from Washington.

The Dave Thomas Foundation picked the wrong year to ask for its first congressional earmark. The Dublin based foundation started by the Wendy’s founder tries to find adoptive homes for foster kids around the country.

It with the help of Sherrod Brown, pursued a half-million dollar earmark to help pay for outreach to prospective parents and training for adoption professionals. Foundation President Rita Soronen says the funding was looking good until congress put a two year hold on earmarks last month.

“It’s disappointing that we jumped in right at a time when it’s just a difficult time for this country. It’s a difficult time for states and counties – disappointing but it doesn’t deter us from doing the right thing. You know Dave Thomas our founder always said these children are not someone else’s responsibility, they are our responsibility,”said Soronen.

Soronen says failure to get the earmark will set their outreach effort back a few months, but the foundation plans to aggressively increase fundraising and perhaps pursue direct government funding.

The Columbus YWCA was planning on its $250,000 earmark to pay for before and after school programs for at risk young people.

“At that point in December, it was pretty much a sure thing for us,”said Karen Bridges, the group’s chief financial officer.

But Congress imposed the moratorium and the Columbus YWCA now must look to other sources to make up the funding to continue the program at its current level.

“The goal is to try to prevent crime, prevent kids from going into crime, to help them choose positive things for their lives instead things that will have a negative impact.”

In Circleville a planned economic development center was to get a $800,000 earmark to get the project off the ground. With no money, the center is on hold, possible permanent hold.

“This project could be dead,” said Hank Kelly, executive Vice President with Ohio Christian university which was partnering with Pickaway County on the project.

The goal was to build a center on the school’s Circleville campus to train small business people and offer them help to expand.

“We’ve lost 2,500 jobs in the last ten or twelve years so we really could us a jump start here to help create more jobs.”

Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio had his name on all of these earmarks. He defends the process and blames the new Republican congress for putting the projects on hold. Brown says he’ll push the Obama Administration to help the organizations find other sources of money.

“I’m going to be working with the administration to find creative ways to assist these very worthwhile public and not-for-profit project,” Brown said.

Earmark spending amounts to less than one half of one percent of total federal spending, but ever since the Alaska’s bridge to no-where, they’ve come to symbolize wasteful spending. But The Thomas Foundations’ Rita Soronen says they got caught in the wave.

“I don’t know if we were unfairly swept into a common tone in this country, but we certainly were swept into that and I’m sure everyone thinks it may be unfair. The reality is we have to continually look at what are the priorities for this country, and certainly families and children should rise to the top, and there are times when bridges and infrastructure might be put on hold just for a moment.”

For right now, earmarks of every sort are on hold.