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Committee OKs more funding for four social service agencies

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

Last Friday the City Council’s Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously to divvy up more than $360,000 in unallocated social service funding to four social service agencies — Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Austin Community College Teacher TRAC, the Austin Children’s Shelter, and Capital IDEA.


If Council approves the committee’s recommendation on Thursday, it will help bring to a close a year-long competitive process that has seen countless emotional appeals from groups struggling for small slices of a shrinking city pie. 


Council approved making social service funding a competitive process in September 2010. The Health and Human Services Committee initially voted to split the $13.2 million in available funds among 16 agencies. But after lengthy public debate about what kind of social services would be lost if that plan were to go through, the committee came up with a new plan to fund 30 agencies at or around 70 percent of requested funding, thereby allowing more groups to keep their doors open. Council is scheduled to vote on that plan Thursday.


At Friday’s meeting, Council Member Laura Morrison thanked agency representatives for understanding just how “challenging” the decision-making process has been for the committee members.


“I just want to say that I appreciate that everybody here appreciates what a hard job it is and that we’re going to try to improve and that respect that you have shown for the other agencies so that it has not become a dog-eat-dog world,” Morrison said. “We know that we’re all in it and committed to this city together.”


At a recent Council work session, staff informed Council that there is still more than $360,000 in unallocated funds available for social services, which comes as a small bit of good news in a process that hasn’t seen much of it.


The $360,000 in unallocated funds comes from four different sources. There is $49,765 in one-time funds from the FY2011 budget that will require a budget amendment to move into the FY2012 budget. Just over $114,000 in one-time, one-year funding for FY2012 is available because some agencies approved under the RFP bidding process need less money than originally thought. And an additional $22,483 was identified after staff reconciled the contracting process and went through all the budgets one last time.


All told, there is $187,611 available for one-time, one-year funding in FY2012.


In addition, $180,650 in ongoing funding is available for long-term social service contracts.   


Hopes were high among the numerous speakers at Friday’s meeting that this extra money could be used to close gaps across the social service spectrum. Those speakers included advocates for such groups as Capital Idea, the Salvation Army, and Youth Unlimited.


Despite the newfound windfall, Council Member Mike Martinez, the committee chair, advised those in attendance to recognize the monetary limitations still inherent in the process.


“Whatever decisions we make today, there’s going to be someone who’s not made whole or gets left out. There’s just no doubt,” said Martinez. “It’s not possible. But our commitment remains that we will continue to work with you all, and hopefully in the next budget cycle we can find some additional funding to bring some of agencies back up to their original levels or add new agencies that just missed the mark this year.”


Under the terms of the committee’s recommendations, $61,825 of the unallocated $187,611 in one-time funding will go toward Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid. The Austin Community College Teacher TRAC program will receive $18,400, the Austin Children’s Shelter will receive $50,683, and Capital IDEA will get $56,703.


Those funds will help Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid and the Teacher TRAC program get to 70 percent of requested funding for the first year of their three-year contracts. The Austin Children’s Shelter, on the other hand, did not make the list of social service providers the city will be funding. Their $50,683 will act as “transitional” funding, keeping the group funded for an additional six months while it seeks out other money sources or charts some other course.


The Committee also voted to give $180,650 in ongoing unallocated funds to Capital IDEA. Council Member Chris Riley, who made the motion, said the city has a “longstanding commitment to Capital IDEA, with good results. It goes to the heart of what we’re trying to do with our social services program.”

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