The afterschool programs in Bigfork, Deer Park, Kila and Marion learned a hard lesson recently when they found out they had lost the federal grant money that had allowed the programs to operate for the past five years.
The programs operate under the umbrella of the Bigfork ACES program (which stands for “arts • community • education • sports”) and provide in valuable support to parents and children. In fact, nearly 600 students from kindergarteners through eight-graders are enrolled at the four sites.
Now, the future of the programs is in doubt as the community will somehow have to find an alternative source of funding equivalent to $200,000 to keep on pace.
Of course, that is the risk that occurs whenever any continuing program is established with the benefit of a one-time funding mechanism. The same risk has been undertaken by the state of Montana in expanding its Medicaid program with the enticement of federal funding that could disappear at any time. The fact that both of these programs were established with the lure of federal funding, in particular, just adds to the risk when you calculate the $21 trillion federal deficit into the mix.
All is not lost for ACES yet, however, and the solution is the best hope for long-term social-services funding — the local community. Bigfork ACES Executive Director Cathy Hay is working on a plan to maintain the program through fees and additional fund-raising. That is the only reliable method going forward. As the Inter Lake’s story explained, only 16 organizations in the state were awarded the federal grant money this year out of more than 40 applicants.
Despite the call of some national politicians for ever more free stuff for good causes, the plight of ACES is a cautionary tale that there is only so much tax money to go around. It’s important that we all remember that.