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HHS panel wants more information from agencies

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Members of the Council Health and Human Services committee heard from more than a dozen representatives of social service agencies Monday during a called meeting that was a continuation of the panel’s regular meeting last week.

A number of social service agencies, many who have been receiving funding from the city for years, say Austin’s Request for Proposal process is leaving some constituencies – such as early childhood education – unfunded or underfunded in the coming fiscal year. So many agencies lined up to speak to the committee last week that there was no time left for the members to discuss the funding options. (See Austin Monitor, Sept. 17)

Committee Members Mike Martinez, Chris Riley and Laura Morrison spent another 40 minutes Monday listening to more agencies plead their case for funding, then reviewed the three options staff has laid out for allocating the $15 million budgets for social services. (See document.)

The staff options included funding the agencies that made it under the city’s formula at 80 percent, with 20 percent left for “filling in” underfunded categories; funding agencies at 80 percent of the requests in each category, with 20 percent left to HHS staff discretion regardless of the agency’s score; or providing level funding for existing contractors and allocating the remainder based on requests from new agencies.

Martinez said he found things to like and dislike in all three schemes.

“I’ll say this: I absolutely do not want to make draconian, across-the-board cuts of 20 percent and just have you (staff) deal with it,” he said. “That’s the most irresponsible budgeting manner, and quite frankly, it’s what we see almost every year – or every two years – from the Texas Legislature. ‘We are cutting the budget by 10 percent. Here it is; you deal with it.’ That’s not how we do things here.”

Instead, Martinez, Riley and Morrison sent HHS staff out to meet again with all of the organizations and find out what – if any – flexibility there might be in their proposals, and report back to the committee.

Morrison proposed taking the $1 million in additional funds made available this coming year and holding on to it in order to match it with the same amount in the next year, which will give the funds more impact.

“If the recommendation we bring to the full Council has a $2 million bump rather than just a $1 million bump,” she said, “then I’d like to see a resolution that says, ‘We understand that the resolution is for $2 million, and that we are directing the city manager to go ahead and plan for that to be ongoing in 2016-17 and beyond.'”

Martinez, looking perhaps to the new 10-1 Council being seating in January, warned that future Councils aren’t bound by this year’s decisions.

“As you know, any future Council can undo all $15 million in funding if they decide to do so,” he said.

The committee requested that HHS staff report the outcome of their follow-ups with agencies at their next meeting. The committee decided it would meet for another called session Oct. 8 and again at its regular meeting Oct. 21. The funding plan would most likely go to the full Council Nov. 6 or 11.


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