Non-profits across the state are pointing to some relatively minuscule cuts in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s FY 2020 budget that would have an outsized impact on vulnerable Alaskans.
Dunleavy proposes to cut the Department of Health & Social Services (DHSS) by $337 million in unrestricted general funds (UGF) and $453 million in federal funds. Most of the cuts fall on Medicaid.
With numbers that large, it is easy to overlook two line items, the elimination of Human Services Community Matching Grants (HSCMG) and Community Initiative Matching Grants, totaling $2.2 million.
The DHSS Senate subcommittee held a brief hearing on the grants Friday, March 15.
“In the governor’s proposed [FY] ’20 amended budget, this grant program is proposed to be eliminated,” said Sana Efird, the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) administrative services director for DHSS.
But the organizations that maximize those grants include food banks, shelters, senior centers, and mental health centers.
The grants require recipients to find matching funds.
“When we’re matching, and it’s specifically for the basic essentials of food and shelter… is this where you would really like to see the cuts, or are there other places that we can find $2 million?” asked subcommittee Chair Natasha von Imhof (R-Anchorage).
“When you look at the Department of Health & Social Services budget, basically every program within this budget touches individuals,” Efird replied. “This is very difficult decisions, but following the guidance and the policy set before us with the governor’s directives for expenditures match revenues, we worked through and looked at ways that we could protect the large core services and programs that the department is statutorily required to do, and this was the proposal that has come forward.”
Efird’s comments came shortly after she acknowledged HSCMG has existed in statute since 1992. Dunleavy has not submitted a bill repealing the statute.
“To eliminate this program, and so rapidly, is not only a breach of trust, but such action poses a sudden, unplanned and severe disruption to vital human services,” Arctic Alliance for People Secretary/Treasurer Pete Pinney wrote in a letter to the subcommittee.
It is counterintuitive to reduce legislatively-mandated support that ultimately increases costs to the state in providing health and public safety. The negative impacts of such actions should be carefully considered in terms of value. Is it worth reducing supports that prevent premature institutionalization of the elderly who could otherwise remain at home? What are the long-term costs of weakening an already underfunded mental health system? How much will it cost to the state to take up the safety net that the non-profit sector currently provides efficiently?… The non-profit sector is the most effective way to invest in safeguarding public health and well-being, and they would find it extremely difficult to accomplish without a mechanism like the [Human Services] Community Matching Grant.
Sen. Reinbold: “I’m Actually Happy to See a Cut Here.”
The HSCMG program was created for communities of more than 65,000 people, while the $861,000 Community Initiative Matching Grant program was created in 2008 for smaller communities that don’t qualify for HSCMG.
A budget document explains, “Services provided through these programs support Alaska’s most vulnerable population. The homelessness, [sic] hungry, and destitute depend on these services to remain alive and safe. These services are of the most basic type where sometimes the goal is to simply keep someone from freezing to death.”
That language is likely a holdover from Gov. Bill Walker’s FY 2020 budget, which Dunleavy resubmitted in December to comply with law. When Dunleavy submitted his amended budget in February, OMB did not include a link to that same document on its DHSS budget website.
Recipients of Community Initiative Matching Grants include a variety of Alaska Native tribes, villages, and associations; the Brother Francis Shelter in Kodiak; Southeast non-profit Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE); and The Glory Hall in Juneau, formerly known as The Glory Hole.
The Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC) is set to lose funding under both HSCMG and the Community Initiative Matching Grant program because it has offices in Bethel, Juneau, Kenai, and Dillingham.
Dunleavy’s budget also cuts ALSC grants under the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development by $450,000.
ALSC provides pro bono legal services to 7,000 low-income Alaskans every year. They tweeted that they already have to turn away half of applicants due to low funding.
Under Dunleavy’s budget, ALSC said it will have to turn away an additional 1,400 people, including seniors, persons with disabilities, and victims of domestic violence.
“To me, matching grants, when you have other community entities matching the money, we don’t want to lose that. Because it’s not just $861,000; it’s twice that, or three times that,” von Imhof told Efird Friday. “I think that maybe a larger conversation about priorities may be in order, in terms of other things like chiropractic services versus food and shelter, food and water.”
The grants fall under the same branch of DHSS that maintains a computer refresh program.
“You’re getting rid of the Human Services Matching Grant program and buying new computers every four years,” said an exasperated Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson (D-Anchorage).
“I’m actually happy to see a cut here. I think this budget is way, way, way too big, and I really want to see this budget shrink,” Sen. Lora Reinbold (R-Eagle River) said in contrast. “There’s a lot of grant money out there, and I just sure hope there is a rate of return on it.”
Reinbold criticized a presentation of DHSS core services as “flowery statements.”
One of those core services is to “promote personal responsibility and accountable decisions by Alaskans.”
“‘Promote personal responsibility.’ Are we really doing that, or are we creating dependency?” Reinbold asked.
Fairbanks Food Bank, Alzheimer’s Center Among Groups Set to Lose Funding
Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB), the Mat-Su Borough, and the Municipality of Anchorage are the three communities that qualify for HSCMG. That program is slated for a $1.4 million cut in Dunleavy’s budget.
“Have you talked to those three communities about this?” von Imhof asked Efird.
“I have not personally talked to those. I’m not sure if there have been discussions with them,” Efird responded.
Instead, non-profits from the communities contacted the subcommittee to explain the impacts.
The North Star Council on Aging operates the well-known Meals on Wheels (MOW) program in FNSB. The Council turns $21,000 from the State, matched by $9,000 from FNSB, into 6,000 meals for seniors.
“The MOW program is a critical piece of successful aging in place instead of costly institutional care. Sadly, many seniors would suffer serious mental and/or physical hardship if funding for the HSCMG is not restored,” wrote Darlene Supplee, executive director of the Council.
The North Star Council on Aging notes that it partners with the Fairbanks Community Food Bank to source Meals on Wheels.
The Food Bank, which provided almost 29,000 food boxes to people in FY 2018, would also lose HSCMG funds under Dunleavy’s budget.
“A collective reduction in funds of $60,000 between both agencies will cripple our ability to have direct impacts on the most needy in our communities,” Supplee concluded.
Through the Food Bank, beneficiary Tim Hurley sent the subcommittee a picture of an omelette and a salad he made using food from the Bank.
“I’m on a fixed income and have not been able to afford the fruits and vegetables that I get from this program. This is the best food I have had for years,” Hurley said.
Pamela Kelly, executive director of Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska, said the cut to HSCMG would mean her organization will provide services to 328 fewer Anchorage residents and 164 fewer Fairbanks residents.
Fairbanks resident Pam Guzy sought guidance from Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“Although it is a privilege to be my Mothers [sic] caregiver, I don’t have the time or energy to travel to another city or get on the internet to learn about this disease. Even if I did, it would never be as meaningful as sitting in the same room with people who understand and can discuss what I am going through, will laugh, and most importantly cry with me,” Guzy wrote the subcommittee. “I sincerely hope none of you have to face this terrible disease, but if you do, you have a wonderful place to go for support and help.”
Another mental health resource that would lose funding from the HSCMG cut is the Northern Hope Center, the only drop-in center for adults in Fairbanks. Beneficiaries “have a genuine need for relief from isolation, a need for the opportunity to socialize with their peers, a healthy meal which they may not get elsewhere; a way to connect to essential services through advocacy and referral and the opportunity for meaningful employment and income.”
“State Officials have claimed to be aware of the need in the Mental Health field and now the time has come for you all to show that you care about the mental health of the people in this great state,” Northern Hope Center Executive Director Karen Blackburn wrote the subcommittee.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska said the HSCMG cut would cost them 20 mentors in Fairbanks.
“Youth without enough positive adult attention in their lives often do not develop the resiliency and self-esteem they need to avoid negative behaviors and, as a result, are at greater risk of delinquency, drug use, alcohol use, teen pregnancy, academic failure, and suicide,” warned Vice President of Programs and Acting CEO Trina Resari-Salao. “Nurturing and stable relationships with caring adults are essential to healthy human development.”
Anchorage Mayor Says HSCMG Cut Would Make Hundreds of People Homeless
According to Patrick Anderson, CEO of the Rural Alaska Community Action Program (RurAL CAP), “Every individual who luives on the street in Anchorage costs Anchorage and State of Alaska service providers approximately $47,000 annually in response costs.”
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz told the DHSS subcommittee that the proposed cut to HSCMG will result in hundreds more homeless people in Anchorage.
Among the populations affected would be women, children, and victims of domestic violence.
Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC) shelter for victims of domestic violence would have to reduce its capacity as a result of losing two full-time workers.
Brother Francis Shelter and Clare House for women and children, both operated by Catholic Social Services, would have to close during the day.
Bean’s Cafe would have to reduce client services, which include “mail handling services, over-the-counter meds, referrals to services, and [a] workforce readiness program.”
“Unfortunately, many of the things that would likely be eliminated are the items that help put Bean’s Café clients on a path to self-sufficiency,” Berkowitz noted. “The core mission of Bean’s Café is focused on making sure no one goes hungry and those services would be prioritized.”
Berkowitz said that the proposed cuts to grants “will have a devastating impact on the entire community of Anchorage resulting in more homeless individuals, providers who are unable to meet the sheltering needs of the homeless and an overall decline in the quality of life for our most vulnerable individuals, children, and families.”
The DHSS subcommittee will meet again Monday and Friday to consider the $37 million UGF cut to the Division of Public Assistance.