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January 10, 2010

Recorder Online

More than half of SCC funding cut
Recycling: Program serves three counties.

The serendipitous arrival of federal grant monies is keeping 35 young people out of the unemployment line.

Sequoia Community Corps, formerly known as the Tulare County Youth Corps, is a Community Services Employment Training (CSET) conservation program that has been operating in Tulare, Kings, and Kern Counties for the past 20 years. It has employed more than 4,000 young adults, supplying them with job training and educational opportunities.

Recycling subsidies from the California Beverage Container Recycling Program ended in November, taking nearly $1.3 million from the program’s coffers, a reduction of 62 percent.

“Because of the cuts, we aren’t able to employ as many youth as we would like to,” Assistant Director Teresa Guzman said.

Fortunately, funds from the Workforce Investment Act, among others, are keeping the program running near its usual capacity, though keeping growth out of the question at the moment.

During the 2007 to 2008 fiscal year, SCC recycled a greater volume of material than any other local conservation corps in the state — 554,533.7 pounds, or 3,289,497 containers.

SCC Division Director Chantel Medeiros said the number of drivers who pick recycling up from local businesses has been reduced from 10 to six solely through attrition, lessening the immediate need for staff cuts. Salaries make up the biggest portion of expenses for the private, non-profit program.

According to Department of Conservation Public Affairs Officer Mark Oldfield, the cuts in grant funding to the local corps can be traced to a decline in sales volume of California Refund Value (CRV) beverages combined with and a dramatic increase in the number of CRV containers being redeemed at centers like the ones run by SCC. While the recycling rate in 2008 was 74 percent, it rose to 85 percent for the first six months of 2009.

However, another serious contribution to the lack of funds has been the state government’s siphoning of recycling money for other purposes. Borrowed money to the tune of more than $400 million has stripped the California Beverage Container Recycling Fund of its ability to support local corps with the grant as it has done since its inception in 1987.

A lawsuit, brought against the state by major recyclers Tomra Systems, NexCycle and Bigfoot Recycling, is currently underway. The companies believe the state’s payment suspension is illegal and predict widespread closures of recycling centers and worker layoffs.

“We’re just still trying to keep business going,” Guzman said, expressing concern about the difficulty of maintaining current pick up routes if further reductions in staff become necessary. “We’ve tried so hard to make this program into what it has become.”

Though worried about keeping up the program in the face of a shrinking budget, Guzman applauds the increase in recycling activity.

“There is such a demand,” she said. “People do want to do the right thing and recycle.”

 -- Contact Sarah de Crescenzo at 784-5000, Ext. 1045, or sdecrescenzo@portervillerecorder.com.


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