An article in the April 10 Fairfax Extra on proposed budget cuts for human services in Fairfax County contained an incorrect first name. The chairman of the Health Care Advisory Board is Marlene Blum. (Published 4/17/03)
Fairfax County Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), saying the proposed budget cuts for human services are too deep, will try to restore funding for two popular programs for low-income residents.
Hearings ended last night on the proposed 2004 county spending plan, which includes a $7.3 million reduction in human services programs. The cuts come at a time when the county is receiving less money from the state and from foundations and other private sector sources. In addition, trims are needed to pay for a reduction in the property tax rate.
"The unintended, long-term consequences to the community from the combination of public and nonprofit service reductions are of serious concern," said Kevin H. Bell, chairman of the Human Services Council, in a letter to the supervisors.
Merle Blum, chairman of the Health Care Advisory Board, said the funding crisis for human services will affect many people.
"We are talking about people who are already vulnerable, the working poor, the elderly, the children," Blum said. "Some people say that the nonprofits and the churches can pick up the slack, but I have to tell you that they are already maxed out."
Hudgins, chairman of the county board's Human Services Committee, said the supervisors would look closely at the proposed cuts to minimize the impact, but she was concerned about reduced funding for two programs in particular, the Adult Health and Dental Partnership and Child Care Assistance and Referral service.
The health and dental partnership provides free or low-cost care for low-income residents. Under the proposed budget cuts, the program would be eliminated, leaving about 3,000 people without a health care option.
The child care assistance program would be reduced by $1.15 million in county funds, in addition to $1 million in matching state funds. The cuts would eliminate care for 400 children from low-income families.
"I recognize that in tough times you have to roll back spending," Hudgins said. "But we have to find a more judicious way. I can't be accepting of the health care and child care cuts. I think we need to find those funds in other places and recognize that those are critical and they don't help us in the long term."
She said cutting the child care program is short-sighted.
"The purpose of the program is to provide independence to families so they can maintain a safe environment for children. To reduce those slots, that means they have to find an alternative, and that means either not working or finding unsafe places to put their children. That is not going to translate to long-term savings."
Hudgins said that the county would also lose matching funds from the state and federal governments for certain programs if they are cut and that, too, would have a long-term effect on the county.
Blum is not only concerned about the proposed budget cuts to human services but also about the supervisors' intention to slash the county's real estate tax rate as much as 5 cents in this election year.
"If there are additional cuts, there will be even more suffering," Blum said. "We are talking about people who contribute to our community. Some of them are low-income, most of them are working people who contribute to our community."
Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock), chairman of the board's Budget Committee, said the board is trying to find a way to service residents at risk and at the same time deal with reduced revenue streams.
"We've got homeowners saying, 'Holy cow! You're going to tax me out of the county,' " Bulova said. "This is not an easy situation this year."
Bulova said supervisors are trying to be "evenhanded" in dealing with cuts in human services programs.
"We're trying to find the least painful reductions across the board," she said. "We're trying to identify where we can take reductions from the administrative area and spare direct services. That is something we are looking at, but clearly there are folks in this budget who will not be served or served to the level they have in the past."
The board has scheduled the budget markup session for April 21 at 10 a.m. The formal adoption of the budget is scheduled for April 28.