Palin wants to shift social service funds

$1.5 million would be distributed statewide

Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Under a proposal by Gov. Sarah Palin, social service grants that normally go to the three largest urban areas would be withheld, and instead, a state agency would distribute the money to communities around Alaska.

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Palin's budget calls for doing away with the human services block grants that have gone to Anchorage, Fairbanks and Mat-Su for about 25 years, according to Beverly Wooley, health and human services director for Anchorage.

"We would be able to take the grants statewide instead of just the three areas," said Sherry Hill, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Social Services, which supervises the faith-based office.

In the past, the city and boroughs decided which local nonprofit organizations would get the money. Under Palin's proposal, the state's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives would take responsibility for distributing nearly $1.5 million to organizations around the state.

Some Legislators oppose the proposed shift from local to state control.

Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, who chairs the House Finance Committee health subcommittee, said it is inappropriate to usurp the authority of local governments who determine where the money is most needed.

Hawker said he will recommend the block grant program get the same amount of money as last year.

The $153,000 Bean's Cafe gets represents about 20 percent of its cash budget, said Jim Crockett, executive director. "Definitely the need is not going away," he said.

He said the homeless shelter offers a bargain compared to the costs, for example, of keeping someone in jail.

"We can feed an individual two hot, nutritious meals, offer warm shelter from 7 a.m. to 5:30, and provide social services outreach, all for less than $10 per person per day," Crockett said.

Susannah Morgan, director of Food Bank of Alaska, said the idea of offering such grants statewide makes sense, but only if there were a lot more funding available.

"At four to five times the same rate, it makes sense to me. But as it is, it would be taking the same amount of butter and spreading it over a lot more bread."

The state grant program requires a 30 percent match from the local governments that benefit, Wooley said.

Last year Anchorage got about $900,000 from the state and matched it with $400,000, she said. The money in Anchorage goes for food, housing, protective services for victims of domestic violence, and dental care for some uninsured residents.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough got $239,527 from the state and matched it with $53,567, said Kathy Thornlow, a borough financial technician. The money was spread among about a dozen organizations for seniors, kids, people with disabilities and the like.

In Fairbanks, the Daily News-Miner reported the borough received about $300,000 last year for its social service groups.

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