State cuts funding for Fatherhood Coalition

WINNSBORO – Barring a Christmas miracle, the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition is in danger of shutting down.

The Coalition, which serves Fairfield County and is part of the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families, is slated to cease operations Dec. 31. State funding cuts are to blame.

Santanna Hayes with the coalition’s Fairfield County office said during a recent presentation to Fairfield County Council that the agency is requesting an additional $60,000 per year from the county for the next three years. The county already gives $40,000 annually to the Coalition.

“We were able to recoup a good bit of funding through some efforts we’ve done this year,” Hayes said. “But, unfortunately, Fairfield remains on the list of offices to be closed.”

The Midlands Fatherhood Coalition provides services to fathers in need, including support groups, job coaching, transportation assistance, access to men’s healthcare education and other services aimed at helping struggling fathers.

The coalition’s Fairfield budget is about $213,000 a year, including $40,000 from the county, said Laura Johnson, the county’s acting deputy county administrator.

On Dec. 9, council members voted 6-1 against awarding the additional $60,000. Councilman Mikel Trapp cast the lone dissenting vote.

The vote comes following a recommendation by the Administrative and Finance Committee to disapprove the additional $60,000 funding.

Councilman Moses Bell, who voted against the funding request, wanted to know if there was a way to save the Midlands Father Coalition. To that end, he proposed absorbing the coalition into county government.

Johnson said that would cost the county the full $213,000 annually. She said the county does not fully fund any agency.

“Everyone talks about how good the fatherhood coalition has been in this county.

Can we add this service to another existing group in the county?” Bell asked. Councilman Clarence Gilbert said he sympathized with the coalition’s predicament, but also thought the agency’s funding troubles are beyond the county’s ability to solve.

“To me it’s like having someone on life support. You want to keep them around, you want them to stay here, but eventually you have to give them up,” Gilbert said. “It’s a great program, but they understood where we’re coming from. If we give them $100,000, what is it really going to do?”

Hays clarified in committee earlier that the $100,000 would not include the total of the staff’s salaries.

The issue of cost has arisen previously. At the Oct. 14 meeting, Councilman Jimmy Ray Douglas said the cost was too great.

“It’s a lot of money to give in addition to what we’re already giving,” Douglas said.

Councilwoman Bertha Goins voiced sympathy to the coalition’s plight.

“When you think about the impact it has on personal lives and the quality of life, you’re investing in the future,” Goins said. “We have to be concerned about dollars, but on certain things you can’t put a price tag.”

Midlands Fatherhood Coalition’s budget crunch is the result of a complex set of funding cuts at the S.C. Department of Social Services, which funds about half of the coalition’s budget.

In 2016, the state agency reached a settlement agreement in a federal suit involving neglected and abused children.

As part of that agreement, the state agreed to “make all reasonable efforts to provide funding and other resources necessary to the implementation and achievement of the obligations under the Settlement Agreement,” according to federal court records.

In turn, losing DSS funding has hindered the coalition’s ability to obtain grants from other sources, Johnson said.

“Even with county funding, the group would have to scale back operations,” Johnson added. “When they lost DSS funding, federal and state funding all followed. It is a significant budgetary impact.”

Hayes noted the DSS funding cuts have nothing to do with the coalition’s performance. She noted that since its inception in 1998, the local office has served over 256 fathers and 400 children, providing a tax savings of $331,000.

“We want Fairfield to stay on the map as an office,” Hayes said. “We’re at a standstill when it comes to DSS funding. There is no promise of additional funding at this time.”