Disappointed Crowd Seeks Answers on Social Service Funding Process

In Fact Daily

May 13, 2011

By Elizabeth Pagano

The large crowd that showed up to hear the briefing on social service contracts at Council Thursday morning had diminished to about a dozen people by the time it was presented, nearly nine hours after the scheduled time.

Earlier this week, a presentation of results from the request for proposal process designed to determine social service contracts from the city was met with an outcry from agencies whose programs did not qualify for funding. Of the 73 proposals submitted, 19 of which were from new agencies, only 16 were recommended for funding. (See In Fact Daily, May 10, 2011)

Council Member Randi Shade pointed out that Council Members had only received the recommendations for funding this week, and they were not final.

"We're not at the beginning, we're probably more in the middle, but the middle is a mess and there's going to be some serious work before we get to the end," said Shade, "Nothing has been cut yet."

The last overall competition for social service contracts was in 1999. This, in conjunction with the implementation of an RFP process, and looming questions about the state budget, have combined to create what Shade politely termed "a bumpy road."

Following the briefing, there was a discussion of some of the criticism of the matrix itself, which may have inadvertently created gaps, such as a lack of funding for substance abuse.

"One thing I definitely noticed in the comprehensive plan goals and in some of the other information that has been out in the media is that children were somehow missing from the analysis, and I think it may have been for no real reason," said Council Member Sheryl Cole.

"I really need to understand why the children are not included."

Council Member Laura Morrison said, "Where I think we need the most amount of work now is to look at a spread of the types of services we have in the top scoring. The mechanics of the formula did not capture everything that we really need to consider."

Austin Interfaith has been ironically vocal about the gag order placed on them due to anti-lobbying laws, which prohibit them from communicating directly with Council Members, despite the fact that they advocate for programs, rather than run them. Earlier in the day, the group staged a press conference where several dozen members stood with tape over their mouths in protest of the gag order.

After a prolonged discussion initiated by Cole about whether the remaining social service representatives could speak at the briefing, it was determined that it was not allowed, as the briefing was not posted for public comment.

Shade urged her fellow Council Members and the public to attend the Public Health and Human Services Committee meeting next Tuesday. "I think at that time we should delve into more of the details of some of the topics that are being discussed," said Shade, who noted that the public would be able to participate in that meeting.

"I'm going to predict that by May 26, we won't be ready to take action. I think there is going to be a deliberative process," said Shade. "When we started this RFP process we went through a hard process of prioritizing... We need to look at what some of the implications are for some of the gaps that were raised, and that's what we're doing. That's the process here."