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Council to vote on changes in process for social service contracts

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

Focusing on promoting self-sufficiency among program recipients, the city’s Health and Humans Services Department is recommending that the City Council approve changes in the way Austin solicits and engages its social service contracts.


Council members will vote Thursday on approval of a new Request for Proposal process that will begin in October for contracts to be awarded next year.


The city will solicit proposals for services that promote self-sufficiency, reflecting recommendations made by the Council’s Public Health and Human Services Committee. According to HHS Director David Lurie, who presented staff’s recommendations to Council last Thursday, the focus of the program – the first comprehensive social-service contract process in which the city has engaged in more than a decade – will be on “promoting and sustaining self-sufficiency to individuals and families at or below 200 percent of poverty.”


Under the terms of the program, the city will be looking to several goals when considering proposals, including safety net/infrastructure services that ensure basic necessities and legal rights; transitioning out of poverty by  providing education, employment, and other services; problem prevention to deter the growth of poor conditions at the individual and community level; universal support services that provide family and societal support services; and enrichment policies that encouraging personal and community development. 


In addition, groups looking to do business with the city will have to meet minimum requirements, which will include having an active board of directors, fulfilling IRS requirements, having had a previous unqualified audit, having the ability to maintain a fiduciary bond, and having at least two years of operational experience


The city has a budget of more than $13 million allocated for social services going forward. Lurie said that staff would be recommending three-year contracts with two one-year renewals, for a total of five years, which, he said, would be a good way to ensure “continuity of services.”


Under the terms of the RFP process, the minimum threshold for each contract would be $50,000, up from the current $20,000.


Council Member and Public Health and Human Services Committee Chair Randi Shade told her colleagues that adhering to that minimum threshold would be of the utmost importance as the contract process goes forward.


“I feel really strongly,” she said. “Either have the threshold or don’t have the threshold, but I don’t want a situation where we’re going to add something at the end or where we’re talking about something seeking a waiver.


“We’re trying to depoliticize this process as much as possible. This is not a foundation making grants; this is a city government contracting for services that meet our citizens’ most pressing needs. And I think it opens up a really challenging situation if we don’t have some specificity on (the threshold issue). I hope my colleagues are disciplined enough to follow the rules we have in place.”


Council Member Bill Spelman noted Monday that some groups were expressing concern over the threshold. According to a letter from Bo McCarver, chair, and Isabelle Hendrick, executive director, of the Blackland Community Development Corporation, the $50,000 contract minimum “will end our transitional housing program that has operated since 1964.” The letter explains that Blackland uses about $21,000 in city money in combination with $9,000 in city funds to leverage $57,000 from the Blackland CDC. The letter ends by urging the Council to “refine the recommendations so that we can continue to do our part to house and support those in desperate need.”


Spelman said he did not want to second-guess the committee, of which he is not a member, but that he would be willing to consider programs that ask for less than $50,000 if the programs used a total of $50,000 from all sources.   


Under the current timeline, the city will issue the RFP in October. On April 19, 2011, the Council committee will review the recommended contracts, followed by a Request for Council Action, including contract recommendations, on May 10. Council will vote on those contract recommendations on May 26, with new social service contracts beginning in October.

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