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Candidates answer questions about providing for Human Services

Monday, April 14, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Candidates for Austin City Council outlined their goals for funding human services in next year’s budget during a candidate forum this week sponsored by the Austin Area Human Services Association. The group, which is made of numerous non-profit agencies, asked the candidates to consider a ten percent funding increase for social-service contracts next year along with longer-term major revisions to the city’s system fro allocating those resources.


“Many of you know of my long-term association with non-profit human service organizations in this city. I think you all know that I will do the very best that I can,” said Council Member Lee Leffingwell. “Ten percent may not be the number. It may be higher; it may be lower. But I think it would be irresponsible for me as a Council Member to make an absolute commitment to an absolute number and I won’t do that.”


Place 1 Challenger Jason Meeker told the crowed gathered for the forum at the Mexican American Cultural Center he would commit to an absolute number. “My answer is ‘yes’, there’s no ifs ands or buts about it. The crime already is that the funding is so small, so I have no problem saying it should be raised to the level it should be for a city of our size and for needs that are so great.”


In Place 4, Robin Cravey and Laura Morrison supported boosting funding for the human services contracts, but were not willing to guarantee a ten percent increase if elected. Morrison said it would be her “top budget priority”, but added, “I’m also on record that committing to a particular dollar value is not something I can do without seeing the context.” Candidate Cid Galindo, however, said that he would commit to at least a ten percent increase “in the next budget, not every budget thereafter, but the next one. I think this needs to be a priority for the city,” he said. We need to step up and fill that gap, and if ten percent is what it takes to keep your organization viable and continue to deliver services in the face of the challenges that you have with United Way funding, then I think that’s the role the city needs to play.”


In Place 3, both incumbent Jennifer Kim and challenger said they would support more funding, but could not guarantee the ten percent increase requested by AAHSA. “I would like to try to meet the ten percent goal, I will do what I can, but again it really depends on our revenue scenario right now, which is uncertain,” Kim said.


The candidates were also split on committing to wholesale changes in the funding mechanism for those human service agencies. Representatives of AASHSA wanted to know if the candidates would take a leadership role on those changes, such as establishing a dedicated funding stream for human services, possibly through bond revenue.


In Place 1, both Leffingwell and Meeker agreed to make a new funding system a priority. “I have been and will continue to be a leader for funding for non-profits in this city. I am open to exploring any potential issue,” Leffingwell said. “You have to remember there are other limitations imposed on the city by state law and the city’s charter, and other restrictions. But I think we need to talk about it. One of the places we need to talk about it is here. I think there are a lot of good ideas from you, the people here in this room, on what the possibilities are.”


Place 3 incumbent Kim answered ‘yes’ to that question, as did Shade. “We need a complete new approach to what we’re doing in the health and human services arena, and I’m going to work hard to make that happen,” said Shade.


Place 4 candidates Cravey and Galindo both offered a qualified ‘no’ to the question, while Laura Morrison answered ‘yes’.


Regina Rogoff, executive director of the People’s Community Clinic, conceded after the forum that a dedicated funding stream for the social service organizations, “ may not be possible. But we sometimes feel like we’re fighting over the crumbs at the table and the United Way decision kind of pulled out the rug out from under some very important organizations in our community and it just gave us the impetus to start to think bigger and to think differently. We don’t want it to be just business as usual, we want to rock the boat a little.”

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