Earmarked funds sometimes make sense

Case in point: Money for Children’s Advocacy Center

LAST YEAR, the Children’s Advocacy Center of Bristol County opened more than 800 new cases involving the abuse of children in this southeastern Massachusetts county of 550,000.

That is a 164 percent increase in just 10 years, the result of too many bad choices by too many adults. With that increase comes increased demand for the services the advocacy center provides to children and their families. We work closely with law enforcement, child welfare agencies, medical professionals, and other human service agencies to get those children out of harm’s way as quickly as possible and to support families in crisis as a result of that abuse.

Caring for those children and providing help for those families costs money, of course, but the annual state budgeting process doesn’t always provide enough to pay for all the needs of the children and families under our care. And so we rely on donors and supplemental appropriations to bridge the gap.

One of those sources of funding includes the “earmarking” of state money outside the normal budgeting process for specific programs and services.

A May 6 story in the Boston Globe, headlined “GOP leaders, while quiet on the budget process, collect big local earmarks for districts,” showed how state lawmakers sometimes can set aside state money for programs benefiting their constituents.

The story reported that Republicans in the Massachusetts House of Representatives had managed to set aside about $1.2 million in the $42.7 billion state budget to fund projects and programs benefiting their home districts.

Included among the recipients who would benefit if the earmarks survive the state budget process are programs like the Children’s Advocacy Center of Bristol County, which would get $500,000 to enable our professional staff to serve children who have suffered abuse and support families in crisis.

I do not believe that earmarks that are pledged outside of the state’s main budgeting cycle are the best way to pay for public health and public safety services. Stable and adequate appropriations made through the state budget process would be preferable because the public review would lend credibility to the spending decisions and the manner in which they are made.

The reality, however, is the money included year to year in the state budget is unpredictable, as the Legislature and the governor have numerous, changing spending decisions to make about the essential services the Commonwealth should provide in a state budget of more than $42 billion.

That is why we are grateful to Republican Rep. Elizabeth A. Poirier, the assistant minority leader from North Attleboro, and state Rep. Patricia Haddad, a Democrat from Somerset who is the House Speaker Pro Tempore, for taking the lead and working closely with the entire Bristol County delegation to secure a vital portion of our budgetary needs. This bipartisan support, which came from every member of the county’s legislative delegation, demonstrates what is possible when the two parties work together.  This is a classic case of “teamwork does make the dream work” for delivering essential services and a coordinated response for hundreds of abused children in Bristol County.

The money represents nearly one-third of the center’s overall annual spending, and it pays for salaries, equipment, training, and supplies. State funding has failed to keep pace with the explosion of need, and we would be forced to close our doors without this appropriation.

Meet the Author

Michelle Loranger

Executive director, Children's Advocacy Center of Bristol County
While it is important that state government be conducted in as open and transparent a way as possible, we also know that the work we do requires adequate financial support that is currently missing in the main state budget. Our legislative delegation chose to act on behalf of those children.

And it is those children who matter most.

Michelle Loranger is executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Bristol County, which is a program of JRI.