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City makes up funding cuts for some United Way agencies

Monday, March 31, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The City of Austin is trying to give social service organizations a little help this year in the wake up cutbacks from United Way. Earlier this month, the Council approved an extra stipend of $108,000 to the Salvation Army for temporary shelter for the homeless.


Last week, the Council’s Health and Human Services Subcommittee heard a report from Acting Assistant City Manager David Lurie on plans to provide a total of $96,500 for additions to the funding of four other agencies hit hard by United Way’s change in direction.


The additional funding for those agencies—SafePlace ($33,000), VinCare ($13,500), Caritas ($27,500) and Wright House ($22,500)—does not require City Council approval, according to Council Member Lee Leffingwell, who chairs the subcommittee. He noted that all of those amounts fall within the spending authority of the City Manager.


“All of these things were focused on safety net, basic needs type stuff. There are something like 15 or 16 social service agencies that we fund that had their contracts reduced by United Way and we wished that we could have restored funding for all of those,” Leffingwell said.


According to figures from United Way, it cut a total of more than $550,000 from agencies it previously funded. The changes came about because the umbrella-funding group decided it would be better to address “root causes” of poverty rather than continue its previous commitments.


For example, SafePlace, which provides crisis counseling and housing for those going through domestic or sexual abuse, received $89,000 less from the umbrella organization for the current year than for 2006-2007 and was given a six month transition amount of about $13,000. Other charities faced similar reductions.


United Way increased funding to Communities in Schools (Big Brothers  and Big Sisters), Any Baby Can, Foundation Communities, Boys & Girls Clubs, Open Door Preschools, Austin Groups for the Elderly and several others.


Asked what the city might do for the agencies that lost United Way funding for next year, Lurie told In Fact Daily, “We’re going to have to look at it in the context of next year’s budget, because this is a one-time appropriation based on some un-allocated dollars we have available. You’re looking at $18 million for social services. There’s always some reserves as agencies come in and out of the system, so fortunately we have a little bit to work with there. But it is going to be an issue and a challenge as we go forward, because the United Way’s decision is not just one-time. The other part of this is United Way also provided some transitional funding, and that’s going to go away. So we will have to re-visit it.”


Lurie noted that the City of Austin is discussing how to deal with the problems created by loss of funds with both United Way and Travis County. The three need to make sure that “we’re aligning priorities and funding so that we can be complimentary. Some of the crisis services and safety net services that United Way is moving away from, the needs are still there in the community,” he said.

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