Friday, July 10, 2009

Cuts Ahead for Social Service Agencies?

Social service agency budgets could get axed
Sean Holman, Public Eye Online, July 09, 2009.

The provincial government could be putting discretionary grants to social service agencies on the chopping block. Speaking with reporters today, Finance Minister Colin Hansen acknowledged discretionary grants could be "impacted" by the government's effort to find $1.9 billion in administrative efficiencies over three years. Asked whether grants "impacted" would include those allocated to social service agencies, the minister said, "We're going through all the discretionary grants line-by-line. In some cases, you've got organizations that may be doing great work. But then you realize it's a duplication of what somebody else is doing. So let's find ways to get those groups working together that reduces the administrative cost of delivering that front-line service."

"There are cases where we've identified that there might be dollars going out the door to an organization when, in fact, those services should be provided by front-line government workers. So we're not looking at it from the perspective of whoever has been funded in the past should get funded in the future. We're saying how best can we deliver those services in the most cost-effective way. And I can tell you, just in the last month and a half, there has been many, many, many hours sitting in committee literally going through line by line and you wind up with something that's $5,000. And somebody says, 'Well, it's only $5,000.' And I say, 'No, no. It is $5,000.' It's been a pretty intense process as we've gone through this."

Posted by Sean Holman at 01:55 PM
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Great comment from Dawn Steele:

Mr Hansen is absolutely right to scrutinize every $5,000 grant going out to outside contractors, agencies and groups. The first lens needs to be: is a legitimate benefit being provided and can someone else do a better job for the same or less vs. just assuming that past practice or the right connections are all the validation you need.

But I think he will find, at least from my experience in community living, that most of the non-profits currently funded by government to provide essential services like housing and caring for people who can't live independently, are doing so for far less cost than government could even dream of ever matching (and yes, that's partly because many are forced to seek out non-union staff or rely on volunteers to make ends meet, and partly because they do private fundraising to subsidize the cost of operations).

The second lens needs to be: is the benefit meeting a valid need; is it adequate, excessive or not enough; and is it more or less important than other needs going unmet. This decision is based on social judgement and thus requires full transparency to ensure it meets public expectations. In undertaking such an exercise, govt needs to be prepared to acknowledge that in some cases, perhaps many, the funding is woefully inadequate and needs to be augmented, not cut.

But before the Finance Minister even starts thinking about the value provided by government-supported community agencies or cutting vital front-line services provided to ordinary British Columbians in need (health care, education and social services), he must first put his own house in order. And he should start by seriously reconsidering whether BC can afford the appalling salary increases given to MLAs, Ministers and senior bureaucrats, the shocking waste represented by untendered contracts to all those well-connected but grossly overpaid "consultants," or the extraordinarily skewed priorities represented by the gross over-funding of political functions such as the Public Affairs Bureau and government advertising.

Viewed through the second lens above, I doubt you'd find many British Columbians who would agree that outrageous salary increases for MLAs and top bureaucrats, multi-million dollar ad campaigns telling us we're the best place on earth, or the recently-revealed $275/hour contract to a friend of the MCFD Deputy, should stay in place while we continue to deny special education services and early intervention therapy to kids with special needs or cut programs like respite care, which allows families to support challenging individuals at home instead of giving them up into hugely costly government care.

Posted by dawn steele on July 10, 2009 11:08 AM

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