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Pleading for Restoring Funding for Human Services

Residents, agencies testify to need for community services.

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Lisa Arlt Escoto of Vienna brought her daughter, Elena, 5, to testify during the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors public hearing on Wednesday April 11 about the "lifeline" the county provides through its Infant and Toddler Connection Program. "I was shocked to learn that the proposed Fairfax County budget does not include increased funding for the ITC," Arlt Escoto said.

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Human Service Advocates testified before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during a public hearing on Wednesday, April 11, urging the board to increase funding for community programs that serve the homeless population and other vulnerable residents. From left, Kerri Wilson of Reston Interfaith; Gerald Poje of Reston Interfaith; Kathy Albarado, Governing Board of Office to Prevent and End Homelessness; Cheryl Simpkins of United Christian Ministries; Conrad Egan, Governing Board of Office to Prevent and End Homelessness; Michael O’Reilly, Governing Board Chair of Office to Prevent and End Homelessness; Amanda Andere of FACETS; Meredith Magwire of Habitat for Humanity and Judith Dittman of Alternative House.

Recommended Funding Increases

Fairfax County Alliance for Human Services recommended funding increases in FY 2013 Budget include:

*Partners in Prevention Fund, which funds various organizations, including Safe Dates programs run by FACETS, The Lorton Community Action Center, United Community Ministries and Reston Interfaith - $400,000

*Additional funding for the Consolidated Community Funding Pool. During 2011, more than 119,000 people in 61,300 households was served - $448,534

*Restoring funding for Access Fairfax - $75,000

*Restoring funding for two Computer Learning Centers - $90,000

*Restoring funding for the Department of Family Services Rent Relief Program - $275,000

*Restoring funding for seven School Health Aide Substitutes - $110,997

*Restoring funding for one contracted Nurse Practitioner with the Community Health Care Network - $130,000

*Restoring funding and providing additional funding for the Adult Dental Program - $100,000

*Restoring funding for the Home Based Care program - $300,000

*Restoring funding for Student Assistance Services - $100,000

*Providing funding for residential services for young adults with autism and mental illness - $663,721

*Therapeutic Recreation Summer Program and Adult Social Club Program - $35,000

*TOTAL - $2,828,252

After three years of deep budget cuts and declining revenue, Fairfax County is showing signs of fiscal equilibrium as property values and revenues begin a slow uphill climb.

But human service agencies in the county are still feeling pinched by three years of cumulative cuts to their budgets, shrinking state and federal dollars, and increased demand on services.

More than 30 agencies and individuals showed up to testify during last week’s public hearings on the proposed $6.7 billion fiscal year 2013 budget to deliver a unified message to the Board of Supervisors.

"The proposed cuts in human services funding are relatively small dollar amounts," said Frank Blechman, vice chair of the Fairfax County Alliance for Human Services (AHS), who testified before the board on Wednesday, April 11, "but the impact these cuts will have on programs and the vulnerable families and individuals who need them will be severe."

County Executive Anthony Griffin’s proposed budget assumes no increase in current real property tax rates; however, the AHS — a non-partisan partnership that advocates for dozens of local public and private human service providers — urged board members to adopt the county’s advertised tax rate 1-cent tax increase to $1.08 per $100 of assessed value, which would add nearly $20 million to the budget coffers.

To avoid raising tax rates, Griffin has proposed a 2013 budget with approximately $3 million in various human services cuts, including:

*Eliminating the Adult Dental Program (Savings: $50,000) - This program provides discounted basic dental care to low income adults. According to AHS, eliminating the program will result in 500 adults not receiving services. Instead, says AHS, they will have to seek care at the Northern Virginia Dental Clinic, which has a waiting list of six months to 4 years.

*Reduce home-based care funding (Savings: $300,000) - These services are provided to low-income adults to help them continue independent living in their own homes. In fiscal years 2010 and 2011, funding for this program was cut by a total of $1.7 million. To deal with that reduced funding, the County’s Department of Family Services has tightened screening and services. According to AHS, the proposed fiscal year 2013 cut would lead to a waiting list for services.

*Decreased funding for Student Assistance Programs (Savings: $99,500) - These services, offered through the Community Services Board (CSB), provide year-round school-based alcohol and drug screening, assessment and early intervention. This reduction eliminates one position and, says AHS, will cause 81 youths to be shut out of the program.

"Funding human services is never easy," Blechman said, joking with supervisors that they could afford to demonstrate their "profiles in courage" during a non-election year by approving the county executive’s advertised tax rate to fund "unmet human service needs."

"This is the year to turn the corner from survival mode to growth," Blechman said.

Several supervisors indicated their support of restoring funding to human service programs.

"These programs serve the homeless, the elderly, people suffering with drug and alcohol addictions, young and old residents with serious physical and mental disabilities, victims of domestic violence, and many other county residents who need help from their community," said Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville).

"Because of their circumstances, many of these people live in poverty," Foust said, adding that Fairfax County has a number of active non-profits and faith-based groups providing services.

"But the sheer numbers of residents needing help means the county must play a large role in ensuring that needed services are provided," Foust said.

While Fairfax County’s poverty rate is better than most — 5.08 percent in 2011 — it still translates to nearly 63,000 people living below the poverty level, according to county officials.

The Alliance for Human Services provided board members with a list of budget recommendations regarding the proposed cuts as well as restoring certain other programs cut in prior years.

AHS acknowledged that Griffin’s proposed budget does include some increases in several human services programs.

"We can’t stress enough how important it is to approve the county executive's recommendations for increased human services funding. Anything less will further weaken the human services net that is already frayed," Blechman said.

One of Griffin’s recommended increases that generated emotional testimony was the $823,456 for the CSB Infant and Toddler Connection, which provides families screening and programs for children with possible developmental delays.

Lisa Arlt Escoto of Vienna brought her daughter Elena, 5, who has a neuro-genetic syndrome that causes severe global delays, seizures and drastically limits speech.

"I was shocked to learn that the (proposed budget) does not include increased funding for the Infant and Toddler Connection," Arlt Escoto said.

She said she and her husband were working in China for the U.S. Consulate when they discovered Elena was severely developmentally delayed and required immediate intervention therapy. So the couple returned to Fairfax County to get Elena the help she needed.

"I was already feeling overwhelmed and terrified by the discovery of Elena’s disability, and being unable to find private therapists who didn’t have a one or two-year wait list nearly drove me over the edge," she said.

When one of Elena’s doctors referred her to the ITC, Arlt Escoto said it was a lifeline for her and her daughter. "They provided several therapy programs as well as a mom support group … I am convinced that without ITC, Elena would not be nearly as functional as she is today."

"I support a big chunk of those cuts being restored. Some are totally unacceptable, like ITC," said Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee).

McKay said that the county’s Infant and Toddler Connection touched his family in a profound and personal way. When his daughter Leann was 2 1/2, she stopped talking. At the time, she was attending the Bryant Early Learning (BEL) Center day care program in Alexandria, which referred her to the ITC. Through ITC, McKay’s daughter received intense speech therapy for six month, and she completely regained her ability to speak. McKay said she is as chatty now as any four-year-old.

"It was one of those eye-opening moments when you appreciate that much more where you live. It’s such a small budgetary item, and I’m glad most people never need these services," McKay said. "But it was a lifeline for us."

McKay said alarm bells went off when he learned that the ITC was going to stop admitting early intervention clients because of budget cuts, especially when referrals to the agency are up 38 percent in the past two years.

"When I saw it on the cut list, my jaw dropped … I am more than appalled; I am outraged," McKay said. "Not only are these budget cuts abdication of our moral responsibility to our children but they are a poor financial decision."

Chairman Sharon Bulova (D-At-large) said individual testimony that demonstrates the value of the county’s human services programs is always compelling.

"It absolutely matters when people are courageous enough to come before us to share their personal stories and experiences," Bulova said.

"It is also important for us to identify efficiencies and delivery methods that best leverage our county investments in human services programs and services," Bulova said.

"Ultimately, our job is to listen, care and weigh all of the options," said Supervisor Linda Smyth, (D-Providence). "We always end up with more requests than money. We’re in a much better place than most of the country, but that doesn’t mean people are not still hurting."