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Council committee approves changes to social service contract process

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

Facing a tight budget and vocal criticism from some quarters, the Council Public Health and Human Services Committee voted yesterday to change the city’s social service Request for Proposal process. Those changes will go before City Council on June 23.


However, the committee voted against changing or waiving the city’s anti-lobbying ordinance, which had been proposed by many social service providers frustrated by the RFP process.


The RFP, which Council approved last September, represents the first competitive social service contract process in the city since 1999. On May 9, staff presented to the committee their recommendations for how to divvy up the roughly $13 million in funds the city has set aside in the FY2012 budget for social services. Staff recommended funding 16 proposals, from groups like Meals on Wheels, Caritas of Austin, and Foundation Communities.


Approximately 50 other groups lost funding, including the Center for Child Protection, Any Baby Can, and Planned Parenthood of Austin.


Ever since, Council members have been scrambling to mollify critics of the evaluation matrix and come up with a variation on the process that will be more inclusive and also close certain service gaps. Those gaps concern, in particular, early childhood development and prevention programs.


Committee members hailed yesterday’s work session as an important step forward.


The first part of the proposal approved by the committee is based on the acceptance of the RFP’s evaluation matrix and the resulting scoring recommendations. As opposed to funding the 16 chosen proposals fully, however, the award amounts would be modified to the greater of either 70 percent of the requested amount or the amount of funding that a group received in FY2011. That 70 percent will act as a starting goal, after which percentages can be decided on a case-by-case basis based on community need and a gap analysis.


By modifying allocations in this way, staff believes it can provide money for the next 15 respondents on the scoring list, thereby closing service gaps. Those respondents include groups like Any Baby Can and Capital IDEA, which focus on early childhood and prevention and which would have received nothing otherwise.


Council Member Laura Morrison told In Fact Daily that the gap analysis will be the shared responsibility of committee members, staff, and the community. “I’ll be looking at it certainly myself, but a lot of our understanding of gaps at this point comes from public input, so we’re definitely going to be looking for more public input for the next round,” she said.


If approved by the full Council, the resolution will also direct staff and Council members to find and extract proposals that could be awarded money outside the RFP process, thereby freeing up social service funds for more groups and proposals.


For example, staff recommends funding the Center for Child Protection using public safety money. The resolution would direct staff to find similar funding options for Austin Travis County Integral Care, a group that helps people with behavioral health needs and developmental disabilities.


The proposal will extend all current social service contracts for one year, to Sept. 30, 2012.


Despite some community concern about access to Council members during the RFP process, Council won’t be tackling the issue of waiving or modifying the anti-lobbying ordinance yet. Groups such as Austin InterFaith have argued that the ordinance is too strict and prevents unaffiliated groups like their own from speaking to individual Council members about gaps in the city’s social service program.


But committee members decided to hold off on debating such a change in favor of giving the new approach to the RFP process a fair go.


“As long as we’re making progress and getting work done,” said Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez, “I don’t see why at this time we’d want to waive that.”

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