Cut to grant program worries group that gives kids with disabilities horseback lessons

An organization that teaches children with disabilities how to ride horses is worried about the fate of its program after learning a provincial grant program it relies on could be in jeopardy.

Manitoba Community Services Council told it will lose administrative budget from province, executive says

Staff help a child enrolled in Manitoba Riding for the Disabled Association's program take a ride on a horse at the West Wind Stables in Oak Bluff. (Marianne Klowak/CBC)

An organization that gives children with disabilities horseback-riding lessons is worried about the fate of its program after learning a provincial grant program it relies on could be in jeopardy.

The not-for-profit Manitoba Riding for the Disabled Association operates out of Oak Bluff and gives kids with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other conditions therapeutic horseback riding lessons.

MRDA executive director Peter Manastyrsky says the riding association just applied for a $15,000 grant this fall through the Manitoba Community Services Council. He worries it won't come through, though, because of provincial funding cuts to MCSC that could force that organization to axe its three paid administrative positions.

"Coming from a one-person office myself here, it's critical to have people in place to do the work that needs to be done to help groups such as us and others across Winnipeg and the province," said Manastyrsky.

"This day and age, people don't step up to volunteer as much, and you need professional people to run an organization such as the Manitoba Community Services Council."

In its 34 years in operation, the council has helped more than 10,500 community projects through grants.

The province notified the Manitoba Community Services Council last week that as of April 1, it will lose administrative funding to the tune of $280,000, said MCSC chairperson Jay Boaz.

Jay Boaz is chairperson of the Manitoba Community Services Council. (Marianne Klowak/CBC)

That amount covers the salaries of MCSC's three administrative positions who, together with 12 volunteers on the board of directors, approved $2.2 million in grants to community groups last year — from daycares to seniors groups, newcomer programming and more.

"If we can't find alternative administrative funding then we would have to shut down because while we have a volunteer board, the work our staff do is extremely important," he said.

"We're a pretty efficient operation … we believe in what we do."

MCSC is an arm's-length organization, funded by but independent of the province, that determines which groups get grant money. It has been around for 34 years and receives about $850,000 per year from the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries' bingo program revenues, with the rest of its $2.2 million budget coming from Manitoba's department of municipal relations, Boaz said.

It was one of several groups put on notice in the past year after the Pallister government began reviewing most funding commitments made under the previous NDP government.

Boaz said while MCSC knows for certain it can no longer count on administrative funding from the province, it remains unclear whether the greater grant program it runs could also be cut.

"It's 10 per cent of our budget, but the province cutting that 10 per cent, if we can't make it up in such a short timeframe, then we'll cease to exist. And we haven't been able to find out what would happen to that funding: if it would continue or if it would just be a cut."

About 50 per cent of MCSC grants in recent years has been doled out to organizations in Winnipeg, with the other half going to not-for-profits in other parts of Manitoba, Boaz said.

The Manitoba Riding for the Disabled Association received $70,000 in grants in the past 10 years through the MCSC. (Peter Manastyrsky)

Over the past 10 years, the Manitoba Riding for the Disabled Association received $70,000 in grants through the Manitoba Community Services Council, said Manastyrsky. Currently 24 kids are enrolled in its riding program, with 15 more on the wait list. It has an annual operating budget of $160,000 that is funded through MCSC grants and other sponsors.

He said if the administrative cuts compromise the future of MCSC as a whole, it will cost kids in the program.

"It will definitely have an impact on our program because the kids that come into our program have no other activities to participate in," he said.

"You'd like to expand the program but you need to find money to expand the program, but you're already scrambling to find the money to run your existing program."

Contrary to the Pallister government's stated goal of reducing overlap and government bureaucracy, Manastyrsky feels cutting the administrative budget at MCSC will actually add more red tape.

"It will make it even more difficult for the families of disabled kids, I am talking about our program, to access an activity, to get money," he said.

"They're going to have to go knocking on the government door, which we already know is cutting a lot of programs and not supporting a lot of funding for activities. Kids are going to get lost in the paper process and eventually won't be able to participate in anything. I think eliminating MCSC or not providing them with the funding to help out groups such as ours and others across the board is going to be very impactful for many of us."

A spokesperson for the province would not confirm whether the grant program of MCSC will also lose funding, or whether the province just plans to change how that money is distributed.

"Department staff have met with the Manitoba Community Services Council and are awaiting further information from them," the statement reads. "Discussions about next steps are ongoing and a meeting is scheduled for Friday."

With files from Marianne Klowak