Addressing the Shortfall

Addressing the Shortfall

The culture of a people is judged, in part, by how it treats its most vulnerable.

The County is currently developing proposals to address the over $9 million shortfall in the budget for the Community Services Board (CSB). The CSB serves our neighbors with the greatest needs: those with physical, intellectual, or developmental disabilities and those with significant substance abuse and mental health challenges.

The shortfall is due to a number of factors, most importantly (1) an increase in demand caused by the recession and by outreach efforts which prompted eligible individuals to apply for services they had not known were available to them, (2) the failure of both CSB and County staff to recognize the effects changes in employee benefits would have on the CSB budget, and (3) continued inadequate funding by the State, requiring the addition of County funds. CSB services are expensive because they serve the most in need and the service needs are often permanent.

Some have said we ‘can’t afford’ to serve this entire population, a disappointing sentiment coming from a jurisdiction as well off as Fairfax County. The culture of a people is judged, in part, by how it treats its most vulnerable. Historically, there has been a bipartisan consensus that our social safety net programs should be protected, even in times of budget reductions.

We may disagree, in good faith, on what exactly is encompassed by the safety net, or on the level of services needed. But I hope we could agree that CSB clients are people who cannot sustain themselves without assistance, which puts them in a different category from those otherwise capable who face temporary challenges, or who, while self-sufficient, may not enjoy sufficient resources to provide certain levels of comfort and benefits some may want them to enjoy.

The County and CBS are studying several ideas. One is to encourage, and maybe in some cases mandate, that client families use private insurance benefits and co-pays. Another is to streamline expenses. A third is for staff to maintain more stringent oversight on the budget, which should regular auditing.

These ideas make sense, but they will not close the entire gap.

I have asked more than once that the Board of Supervisors reassess social service programs and spending for those over the level of eligibility for free or reduced school lunches (about $42,000 per year for a family of four) to see whether those programs should be reduced, or charge a higher sliding scale fee, to free up funds for the CSB. The County is resisting and is looking only to reduce CSB services to meet available funding. So, we now have waiting lists for services for the disabled, and are reducing detox and mental health service availability. I disagree. It’s time to reassess our priorities to help the CSB.

Finally, we need to promote more philanthropic giving to the non-profit organizations that partner with the CSB to serve those most in need. While we all face difficult times, a county as wealthy as ours ought to be able to care for the most in need among us.