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Council approves 2016 social services contracts

Tuesday, November 25, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel

The Austin City Council approved the next round of the city’s social services contracts Thursday, apportioning far less money than most agencies said they needed to serve their clients. For Fiscal Year 2016, the city received requests for more than $30 million but was only able to fund about $16 million.

The process for determining which social service organizations would receive funding stirred controversy due to a growing need for services and a limited amount of available city funds.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Council Member Laura Morrison, who is on the committee responsible for drafting the social services contract budget. “We need millions more (dollars) to serve the folks that are in need here. But in terms of finding a workable strategy for how we can allocate our funds this time around? I think we came up with something that we can live with.”

Council members were able to find more than the initial $13.8 million set aside for the FY 2016 contracts, and moved $250,000 in unallocated funds from the FY 2015 Health and Human Services Planning Fund and $1 million in unused funds from the HHS FY 2014 budget.

The shifted money is enough to cover 12 months of contracts, but the agreements are for 37 months, with three 12-month extension options, totaling $96.4 million. Morrison said while funding for the 2016 fiscal year is there, some funding for the remainder of the contract months will still need to be found to continue to provide for the city’s underserved population.

Council passed a resolution, also on consent, allowing Health and Human Services staff to add extra one-time funds to the Prime Time program for the 2015 FY to keep 10 school programs running that would have otherwise been forced to close.

The program, which is in schools where 65 percent or more of the students receive a free or reduced lunch, provides after-school enrichment programs. “Hours that kids need to be kept busy and safe,” Hinojosa said in November.

Council also approved on consent several social services contracts-related items, including one to create a process to make recommendations regarding future social services contract requests and identify existing funding and gaps in services. Another resolution directed the city manager to look into how many of the social service organizations getting money from the city pay a living wage to their employees, and report back to Council.

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