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Urban League branches seek ways to survive lean budgets, depleted staff

T.Willard Fair was conducting what he calls a ''one-man hustle'' to raise money for his Miami chapter of the Urban League. His story provides a sample of the survival plight that many branches of this veteran interracial organization face around the United States.

Local leagues are operating on slashed budgets, decreasing white support, and depleted staffs. One day during the recent Urban League convention here, Mr. Fair, president of the Miami chapter, sought to dramatize the situation. The Miami Urban League had been suspended from the national group because it had fallen behind in dues payments. While his local board negotiated reinstatement, Fair pigeonholed delegates in the hotel lobby to dramatize his position.

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''I'm not really looking for donations,'' he said in an interview. ''I'm telling it like it is. Most of us affiliates are having trouble. Times are bad.

''In Miami we pay our bills by priority - IRS first, then employees, landlord , and vendors so we can work, and finally dues to the National Urban League,'' said Fair.

Adding that local leagues around the country are in ''tough, tough shape,'' he said, ''We need new white folks to help us. The Reagan government has clipped our federal grants. Foundations and donors have turned conservative.''

Nevertheless, he says, ''We'll pay our dues and rejoin the fold, I'm sure.''

From Canton, Ohio, a city caught in the throes of the steel industry slump, Barbara Currence, board member and volunteer of the local Urban League, says her chapter also faces a financial challenge. She adds, ''We think we can beat the flak if we attack our most difficult foe, high unemployment.''

Like many local chapters, her group has become savvy at finding money for different projects.

''We are developing a league partnership with local private industry in Canton,'' says Ms. Currence, who is also director of the city's Comprehensive Employment and Training Act. ''We plan to kick off an upgrading and retraining program for unemployed steelworkers Oct. 1. This program is targeted to place trainees with local firms utilizing their new skills.'' In addition, program trainees will also have access to a computer training project at five local high schools, she added.

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Local league troubles mirror the problems faced by the National Urban League in a rapidly changing world, according to league president John E. Jacob. Reviewing his own national budget, he notes that drastic cuts in federal grants have disrupted the National Urban League's fiscal stability. In addition, he says, the financial crunch has led to an ''unusual number of vacancies in the executive ranks of local affiliates.''

Nationally, the league has cut its staff and budget. ''We have given no pay raises in two years,'' Mr. Jacob points out. ''The private sector is increasing its giving, but these contributions don't take up the slack created by the federal cuts.''

The hunt for new local executives is also difficult because of strapped budgets, Jacob says.

''We are very selective in choice of local presidents, but many local affiliates can't afford competitive pay or quality executives,'' he says. ''When locals are not offering the right money, we are hard pressed to get the type of presidents we need.''

In Miami, the problem is more complex, Fair says. ''Since 1980 we have been hit by two riots and shackled by our slowed-down cash flow,'' he says. ''If the National Urban League and black folks don't come to our rescue, we may go out of business.''

All is not despair at the local level, even in depressed cities. In Flint, Mich., suffering from the automobile industry's woes, the local league runs a youth business project. The league provides technical advice, supervision, and some start-up loans. Youth-run firms range from oven cleaning to marketing T-shirts. At the Urban League convention here, Lenore Crowdy of the Flint community school system described a program to help parents and young people understand the state's competency promotion and graduation policies.

Jacob spoke of two other cities: The Akron, Ohio, Urban League operates a complete community family center, including a swimming pool and basketball court in its building, he said. Colorado Springs, Colo., operates a child development center and a preschool that services 60 percent white children.

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