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Gov. Pushes for Arlington Senior Center

Kaine includes funding for Oak Springs facility in budget amendment package

Gov. Tim Kaine has included in his budget amendments a request for $1.7 million in funding to construct an assisted living center in Arlington to house seniors with mental disabilities.

If the proposal is approved by the General Assembly, it will allow Arlington to utilize a $4.8 million federal grant to build a 52-unit facility at Oak Springs for low-income seniors. County officials would still need to appropriate another $1 to $2 million per year to operate the facility.

Yet the governor declined to ask the General Assembly to reinstate an additional $8.7 million in reimbursements funding for human services programs Arlington is expected to lose this year. That funding would have provided four additional mental health counselors, upgraded prevention services and bolstered the county's supportive housing program.

"In looking at the human services needs in Virginia, the Oak Springs center stood out as a particularly good investment for Arlington and a project that fills a critical need," said Maurice Henderson, Kaine’s spokesman.

"The governor has the highest respect for the Arlington legislative delegation and looks forward to working with them in partnership to get this funding approved in the budget," Henderson added.

In recent weeks county officials had aggressively lobbied Kaine to include funding for the assisted living facility in his budget amendment package.

"Having funding for Oak Springs is huge," said County Board member Barbara Favola. "It will be state of the art in terms of programs and supportive services it will provide to the people living there."

There is a dire need in Arlington for a facility that houses seniors with mental disabilities, and can provide 24-hour medical care and attention, said Susan Philip, chair of the Arlington Commission on Aging.

"This is very good news and we appreciate the governor’s support," Philip said. "Obviously he is under a lot of constraints and this speaks to his commitment to supportive housing and long-term care."

County officials originally believed they had enough available funding next fiscal year to trigger the use of the federal grant. But in September the county announced it had to scale back its human services and supportive housing programs due to the loss of $7.5 million in state and federal funding.

An audit earlier this year of foster care programs found that the commonwealth of Virginia had given localities permission to use federal funds for human services initiatives that went beyond the more rigid federal guidelines. The federal government and Virginia then agreed to suspend reimbursements for preventive mental health programs to Arlington and Fairfax counties.

To make up for the abrupt loss of funding, the county decided to implement a hiring freeze and temporarily shelve the Oak Springs project and an adult day care program at Walter Reed Community Center.

Favola and other county officials contended that the state had an obligation to reimburse Arlington because the county had spent the federal money properly. But the governor decided to only include funding for the Oak Spring facilities in his proposal.

Kaine said in a speech Friday that due to the "slowdowns in the housing market and volatile energy prices," he was forced to present a more cautious series of budget amendments.

"At a time when we cannot rely on full federal funding for various projects, it is critical that at the state level we make sound fiscal choices that are spent on core priorities," Henderson, Kaine’s spokesman, added.

Favola said she was "disappointed" the governor did not ask the General Assembly for funding for other human services programs.

"I thought we made a very, very compelling case," Favola said. "But this is not the end of the game."

Indeed, members of the Arlington legislative delegation are planning to introduce budget amendments of their own to secure the remaining reimbursement funding.

"We will take a look at the [governor’s proposal] and see if there is some way of proceeding to address some of the funding that was lost," said Del. Bob Brink (D-48).

The County Board will decide next spring the future of the human services as it crafts the 2008 fiscal budget. Board members have implied they would seek to restore funding for the most crucial human services programs.

"We absolutely have to create services that meet the demand," Favola said. "The negative impact of not providing mental health services in the community is devastating."