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HHS Committee works to fund agency contracts

Friday, October 10, 2014 by Jo Clifton

City Council’s Health and Human Services Committee continues to meet and discuss how to stretch a limited amount of money to fund contracts with Austin social service agencies for the next fiscal year. The panel made progress Wednesday but still has work left to complete a proposal for the entire Council.

According to Council Member Laura Morrison, she and the other HHS committee members – Mike Martinez, who chairs the committee, and Chris Riley – are facing the unenviable task of deciding which groups get funding and how much each will receive.

Staff has made its recommendations, but it is up to the committee to decide what to recommend to the Council as a whole. This was the second round in a relatively new process begun in 2010 that requires social service agencies to submit proposals for funding and be approved a city panel.

The basic problem, as Morrison put it, is an old one: “more needs than money.” During the September budget approval process, Morrison added $1 million to the upcoming social services budget. She wants to make sure that additional million is a permanent part of the budget, bringing the total budget to $15.8 million, she said, for contracts beginning in March 2016.

After meeting last week, the committee asked staff to return to the agencies and ask that they prepare new proposals that would reflect a lower but acceptable amount of funding.  HHS has close to $16 million to put into programs for FY2016, but initially there was about $30 million in requests from agencies.

After staff received a set of revised proposals from most of the applicants, the total requested had been whittled down to about $19 million, which left the committee needing to cut about $3.5 million in requests to find a way to reach the goal.

Morrison also pointed out that most of the agencies funded by the city had not seen any increase in about three years. She said between the cost of operations and increasing demand for services, some agencies are actually losing ground year to year at the same funding level.

She recommended that Council request the city manager’s office to build in an automatic increase each year to keep agencies from falling behind.

Representatives of the agencies have patiently returned to committee meetings over the past few weeks to plead their cases for funding. The city is planning to fund a mix of agencies that were funded in previous years, plus some new organizations.

One group did take issue with having to come up with new proposals late so in the game. Jo Catherine Quinn with Caritas told the committee that it cost her agency about $21,000 each time it had to come up with a new proposal. She said that was money that would not be going to their clients.

The committee will meet again Monday to hash out the details, with its recommendations then going to Council as a whole.

There are only five meetings remaining for the current Council, so members are under pressure to make their decisions quickly.

(Mark Richardson contributed to the preparation of this story.)



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