Native groups may lose social service funds

Posted: Monday, April 02, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Native groups could lose millions of dollars used for health and social service programs under a Senate subcommittee proposal to eliminate a $10.5 million appropriation designated for Native social services.

The Tanana Chiefs Conference, for example, could lose $1.2 million under the proposal.

The Senate subcommittee overseeing the budget for the Department of Health and Social Services has cut the $10.5 million appropriation historically designated for Native social service organizations in the state. If the change goes through, Native organizations would have to compete with non-Native organizations for all their state funding.

Supporters of the change say Native organizations have enjoyed increases in federal aid over the years. And what's more, they say, the department's overall budget is expected to get a big boost this year.

Opponents say the committee not only shifted the money to make all nonprofits compete for it, but took some of it away.

''That is a big concern,'' said Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, a Democrat who represents most of the area in the Interior that TCC serves.

Allocations for competitive grants in social services, public health and drug and alcohol were reduced by 4 percent, 8 percent and 2 percent respectively. That translates to a $833,000 cut.

Tanana Chiefs President Steve Ginnis said in a letter to lawmakers that his organization would have to cut programs serving people with mental health and substance abuse problems. That, he said, would cost the state more in the long run, he said.

''While the state may anticipate savings in grant funds from the proposed cuts, increases should be anticipated in public safety, child protection, emergency services and other similar response programs,'' Ginnis wrote.

The budget adjustment still has many hurdles to cross, including approval by Gov. Tony Knowles, who does not support the change.

''We would put it in the category of budget items that still need to be fixed before it finally comes up to our desk,'' said Bob King, a spokesman for Knowles. ''It's not over yet.''

The subcommittee is recommending increases in several areas related to the Bush, including a $225,000 appropriation for hiring social workers in rural areas and $305,000 to rural mental health clinics. In addition, the proposed budget would provide $350,000 for transcription services for social workers and $200,000 to hire more public assistance workers statewide.

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