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In one-time move, county restores funding to social service group

Friday, October 8, 2021 by Seth Smalley

On Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners Court granted a $200,000 funding request for one year from Asian Family Support Services of Austin. While the resolution was passed unanimously, several commissioners and lamented the lack of procedure of the motion, given that several other groups in need had lost or been denied funding earlier this year due to a directive issued by Governor Abbott. However, all commissioners spoke in favor of the group, reiterating that their issue was entirely with the process, not AFSSA.

According to the AFSSA website, the organization “supports survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault with free, confidential services.”

Twelve speakers in favor of AFSSA were present in court, but voluntarily abstained from speaking because of time constraints and the recognition that commissioners were already voting unanimously to fund the organization.

“I’m very supportive. The organization does incredibly important and unique work,” Commissioner Brigid Shea said. “And we do know that other groups lost funding … we don’t have a criteria for saying no to other groups.”

Though the initial request from AFSSA was for two years, commissioners agreed to administer funding only on a per-year basis due to county budget constraints. According to a document obtained by the Austin Monitor, which details CAPCOG funding recommendations imposed by Governor Abbott (because the competitive process is a joint effort between CAPCOG and the state), AFSSA was granted just 35 percent of the initial amount of money it requested from CAPCOG. While AFSSA was among the most impacted by the Governor’s funding directive, over 25 15 projects experienced similar reductions.

Shea called on the state to help by distributing some of its $16 billion in unused federal assistance.

“Of the city, the county and the state, we have the least amount of funding,” Shea said. “The state should really be stepping up more, considering that they’re sitting on $16 billion that came from the federal government that they never allocated to anybody.”

Other county organizations that had funding impacts earlier in the year include the SAFE Alliance, Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas, Helping Hand Home for Children, and American Gateways.

An additional $200,000 for an additional year of funding is expected to be reviewed in the 2023 fiscal budget, but it’s still up the air whether the county will be able to afford it.

“As we’ve discussed offline, any support we can give the Legislature trying to get that second year from them, or anything we can do along those lines, please let us know,” County Judge Andy Brown said.

Commissioner Ann Howard asked about the possibility of securing the second round of funding from a $4 million chunk of American Rescue Plan Act money, allocated specifically for one-time nonprofit funding in the county. County executive Jessica Rio maintained that, initially, the AFSSA allocation did not appear to meet the standard for ARPA dollars, but that county staff would be open to looking closer. However, as an AFSSA representative noted to the Austin Monitor, Treasury guidance from the National Association of Counties lists evidence-based domestic violence programs as eligible.

“We have made a recommendation on the General Fund, one-time funding instead. If the court wishes us to look at that closer, we would have to do a full review,” Rio said.

Local advocate Zenobia Joseph called in to voice her opposition to the funding for many of the same reasons stated by Shea.

“I ask you to recognize the need to deal with requests for proposals and to allow all organizations that have a shortfall to come to court,” Joseph said, referring to the organizations that had funding impacts as a result of the CAPCOG directive.

The headline of this story has been changed to more accurately reflect the work of AFSSA. The article has been corrected to clarify misstatements made during the meeting, the funding process, and to note that the funding directive came from Governor Abbott 

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.

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