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Task Force Gets Briefing

Full platter and limited funds face county human services.

Dealing with mental health issues, helping small businesses provide health care for their employees, child care, and affordable housing were outlined to be the top issues of the 2008 session of the Virginia General assembly.

That was the joint prediction of state Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-36) and Del. Kristen J. Amundson (D-44) to the Route 1 Task Force for Human Services Monday night during their meeting at the South County Government Center. "After Virginia Tech our state must start looking at our mental health procedures," Puller said.

"[Mental health] is the prime issue right now. We have to act because we won't get another window like this for a long time," Amundson said.

The two state legislators joined Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland and Verdia Haywood, deputy county executive, Human Services, in briefing task force members on actions of the 2007 General Assembly, the Fairfax County budget, and how that budget will impact the myriad human services offered by county government.

"We passed the budget with the least amount of angst in my 20 years on the Board of Supervisors," Hyland said. He also admitted that the county receives a great deal of aid in providing human services to its residents from a vast array of non-profit organizations.

"The tremendous reliance on the non-profit sector in Fairfax County is like having a third arm of government. Everyone has a major challenge in trying to continue doing what they have been doing with less money," Hyland said.

"Many of [the non-profits] can't afford to hire high-priced staff and fund raisers. We need to look at our non-profits and give them the help they need," he said.

Verdia buttressed that assessment by stating, "Because of the United Way setback several years ago money to the non-profits has dropped significantly. When that setback occurred the United Way was providing approximately $7 million per year to various organization," he said.

"This year that amounted to only $2.5 million. Given the normal escalation of fund raising and the amount of time since the United Way setback, if that had not happened our non-profits would probably be getting nearly $13 million. That's the financial gap," Verdia said.

As part of his presentation, Verdia distributed an analysis of the Fiscal Year 2008 Adopted Budget Plan which analyzed a series of Human Service programs, showed the impact of state actions on human services, and presented the "Big Picture Human Service Items Impacting FY 2009 and Beyond."

The latter focused on eight critical items: 1. Preventing and ending homelessness in 10 years; 2. Strategies to deal with mental health and substance abuse issues; 3. Enhancing the well-being and resilience of children, youth and families; 4. Building a quality and responsive long-term care system; 5. Enhancement of the health safety net; 6. Increasing affordable housing efforts; 7. Stabilizing and strengthening neighborhoods; and 8. Increasing efforts to curb domestic violence.

To better deal with these and other issues, another handout, for FY 2009, stated the county Board of Supervisors has instructed staff to plan for a board retreat shortly after the upcoming November elections. A retreat will enable the new board "to quickly come to terms with the bleak fiscal forecast for the next several years," it stated.

Anne Andrews, convener of the Task Force, set the next meeting for Sept. 27.