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Under criticism, Council approves $550,000 for at-risk youth services

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

With criticism rising among some social service providers that the city isn’t concentrating enough on prevention in its assessments of prospective social service contracts, City Council approved a resolution Thursday transferring a total of $550,000 from the sustainability and general funds to the Health and Human Services Department for services for at-risk youth.

The transfer is not a part of the current ongoing social service contract RFP process. Instead, the one-time transfer of $350,000 from the Sustainability Fund and $200,000 from the General Fund was made possible by monies allocated but not expended by the Health and Human Services Department during FY2010.

“Instead of saving (that money), the idea here is to move that money back to social services in a time of high need,” said the resolution’s sponsor, Council Member Laura Morrison. “In a time of need, with a lot of folks needing jobs and all sorts of other needs, it’s good that as much as possible we’re able to devote funds to Health and Human Services.”

The issue concerning which social services to fund has become a contentious one as the city wrestles with its first social service open-bid process in more than a decade. Many providers – including nonprofit groups like Austin Interfaith – are arguing for more emphasis, and money, to be placed on prevention.

On Thursday, Early Childhood Council co-Chair Kyle Holder (speaking not as a representative of that group), said the programs his group has recommended over the last decade – “early-intervention programs that recognize a child’s needs before they become that child’s problems,” he called them – are in jeopardy.

“When the social service RFP was announced, it was obvious that the criteria would not allow child care quality or child development programs that are mainly prevention programs to score at the highest level, as it was heavily weighted to focus on homelessness and poverty,” Holder said.

The Early Childhood Council’s opinions were of particular concern to City Council members Thursday, as the original version of the resolution called on the city manager to solicit recommendations from the Early Childhood Council “on the types of programs needed to fill the gap in social services for Austin youth.”

That portion of the resolution was changed, however, by a friendly amendment proposed by resolution co-sponsor Council Member Sheryl Cole. That amendment stated that the recommendations of the Early Childhood Council be sent to the African-American Resource Commission and the Hispanic Quality of Life Committee, two groups that also deal with at-risk youth. The consensus recommendations of those three groups would then come to Council.

“I think the more input we have, the better we are informed,” Cole said.

Morrison, perhaps concerned that the allocation might be confused with the ongoing RFP, stressed that the resolution does not call for the solicitation of applications from specific social service providers.

“This is just looking for ideas for types of programs, not specific recommendations about programs to be funded,” Morrison said.

The resolution, including Cole’s amendment, passed unanimously. The city manager is scheduled to report back to Council on June 23.

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