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Council approves social services funding despite anticipating tightest budget in years

Monday, April 11, 2022 by Kali Bramble

The pressures of anticipated budget constraints loomed large over City Council’s discussion of funding social services last Thursday.

The conversation followed Council’s approval of Austin Public Health’s request for $6,727,158 across 17 15-month contracts with youth services providers, with four additional 12-month extension options totaling $5,577,331. Of particular concern was a direction put forth by Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter, which separately requested $282,821 in funding to restore after-school care at Austin Independent School District to approximately 1,500 children at risk of losing services.

“It could easily be as we’re moving into the budget season, we face the tightest budget (we’ve) seen in eight years on the dais,” said Mayor Steve Adler, who asked that the record reflect he would not be voting on the item. “Reading this direction, it’s kind of initiating a mid-cycle budget amendment, which as a Council we’ve generally tried not to do.”

Alter’s direction seeks to revive AISD’s Prime Time program, which provides free after-school enrichment from 3 to 6 p.m. at 25 elementary schools across the district. The program has relied heavily on city support since 2012, when cuts from other funding sources threatened to eliminate it entirely. Pandemic stressors such as staff shortages and district-wide enrollment decreases have compounded these needs.

Over the past decade, Austin Public Health’s request-for-proposal selection process has become increasingly intensive, with criteria refined over repeated community engagement campaigns and evaluations conducted by a growing list of departments. The 17 programs set to receive funding through 2023 include the SAFE Alliance, Boys & Girls Clubs, African American Youth Harvest Foundation, and LifeWorks. (A full list is available here.)

“At the end of the day I’m a bit uncomfortable with Council reaching into an RFP process and speaking in favor of one vendor over another,” Adler said. “I lay all those out just by way of noting that these choices are hard and that Council needs to be careful about the precedent that we set. This one obviously is a good program.”

City Manager Spencer Cronk will return before Council by May 5 with staff members’ findings on possible budget sources for Alter’s direction.

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