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Staff proposes no funding for half of current social service groups

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

Almost half of the more than 50 social service agencies currently receiving money from the City of Austin are not being recommended for funding in next year’s budget, according to a presentation by city staff on Monday. A representative of one of the agencies said they felt “gut-punched” by the proposed cuts.


After months of deliberation, staff presented its recommendations for social service funding to the Public Health and Human Services Committee. And while representatives from some of the agencies losing funding sought reasons for being left out, staff’s justifications did not make many of them happy.


Of the 51 social service agencies currently receiving funding from the city, staff wants to continue funding for only 23 of them, either as a lead or a partner agency. Nine of those 51 agencies did not submit a proposal as part of this most recent RFP, which left 19 agencies seeking funds but not winning a nod from staff.


That list includes some of the most reputable social service groups in the city, including the Salvation Army, Any Baby Can, and education advocate Capital IDEA.


Austin Salvation Army Metropolitan Area Commander Major John Carter asked the committee to reconsider staff’s recommendation to withdraw city funding for the Army’s 259-bed emergency shelter located in downtown. “The Army wants to continue to work on finding real solutions to poverty and homelessness in our community – we’re facing other funding cuts in both the public and private sectors – and the funding requested … is essential to our continuum of care,” Carter said.


Speaking for Capital IDEA, Eric Holloway of Austin Interfaith asked that the committee continue funding the group at its current levels so, he said, “it can continue its proven long-term job-training program that lifts people out of poverty forever.”


“If the City of Austin were to cut funding for Capital IDEA,” Carter continued, “220 members of our community would be kicked out … and lose the opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty and into prosperity for themselves and their children.”


The principle objective of the RFP, which was issued by the city on Oct. 10, 2010, is to enable the city to “purchase services that promote self sufficiency for targeted citizens based on the city’s comprehensive plan goals.” Under the scoring matrix for the RFP, proposals were evaluated in relation to five such goals: 1) Safety net/infrastructure; 2) Transition out of poverty; 3) Problem prevention; 4) Universal support; and 5) Enrichment.


Should Council approve staff’s recommendations, $5.6 million of the total requested $13.37 million ($169,331 over the total available budget) would go toward proposals for transition from poverty and approximately $5 million would go toward safety net proposals. The fact that staff recommended funding problem prevention proposals to the tune of only $2.1 million caused alarm among many in attendance yesterday.


Kelly White, executive director of the Austin Children’s Shelter, said she and her colleagues felt “gut-punched” upon reading staff’s recommendations and called them “penny-wise and pound-foolish” for putting so little emphasis on problem prevention. “Pay now or pay later,” she warned the committee.


Many who spoke yesterday, including representatives of the Crime Prevention Institute and affordable housing organization Foundation Communities, echoed that sentiment.


Among the groups staff is recommending for funding are Meals on Wheels, Lifeworks, Safe Place, Caritas of Austin, Workforce Solutions, Goodwill Industries of Central Texas, Foundation Communities, and the YWCA of Greater Austin.


The city’s current social service contracts are set to expire on Sept. 30. Staff recommends extending those contracts through March 31, 2012. Half of the program’s $13.2 million annual budget would be allocated to fund those existing contracts from Oct. 1, 2011, until April 1, 2012; the other half would fund the new contracts from April 1, 2012, through Sept. 30, 2012.


Staff will brief the full Council at this Thursday’s meeting. Projected Council action is slated for May 26.

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