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Social services in Pasco brace for budget cuts

Fewer troubled children getting counseling. Fewer working poor families assured of safe day care. Fewer aides to help seniors with household chores so they can stay out of nursing homes. Fewer rides to work for the disabled.

Agencies that help the most vulnerable are bracing for cuts like those in the wake of a sluggish economy combined with state revenue shortfalls and voters' passage of Amendment 1, which cut property taxes.

"We're only expecting it to get worse," said Bill Aycrigg, president and chief executive officer of Community Aging and Retirement Services Inc. The organization, known as CARES, is the lead agency for elder services in Pasco and serves about 1,500 people through grants or programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Aycrigg said his agency is planning for cuts of $100,000 to $150,000 in a worst-case scenario. The agency has an annual budget of $5.3-million.

The programs that will be most affected are those in which aides visit seniors at home and perform tasks such as laundry and light cleaning. In some cases, home health care workers assist with bathing and dressing. Another program involves heavier repairs to homes so elderly occupants are safe. The goal of all these is to keep elderly residents out of nursing homes and save the state money.

"It would be foolish to cut those programs. We hope and pray decisions will be made very cautiously because it will end up costing the state," Aycrigg said, calling the Pasco legislative delegation "very sympathetic."

While Aycrigg frets over older folk, Jim Farrelly worries about the effects on the county's youngest residents.

He is the executive director of the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties, the organization that oversees subsidized child care for 2,839 working poor families in Pasco and 1,056 in Hernando.

The state office that is in charge of local coalitions is looking at a possible $16-million cut. Farrelly is crunching numbers to determine the local effect.

"This is the biggest issue on the table right now," he said. The agency recently managed to trim the waiting list from 912 to fewer than 300 children, but Farrelly said that can't be sustained in a year of budget cuts.

"Next year I expect it'll be in excess of 1,000," he said. "This is going to hurt working families."

Susan Arnett, president of the Pasco County United Way and a member of Farrelly's board, said the economic slowdown already is having an effect. Many of these parents work in retail and are having their hours cut because of dropping customer demand. When they get below 20 work hours, they lose their eligibility for subsidized child care.

That got Arnett doing some math. With gasoline prices at $3.25 a gallon, it takes $39 to fill a 12-gallon tank. With a minimum wage job, it takes nearly six hours of work just to make enough money for gas. If you're working fewer than 20 hours there's very little left over.

"These are people who also support United Way," she said.

As for her agency, it gets $381,000 from the county to dole out to local nonprofit agencies, which they typically use as a match required by state and federal agencies. Arnett fears that money is at risk this year.

"These are times when people need these services more than ever," she said.

At Youth and Family Alternatives, president and chief executive officer George Magrill is preparing for a leaner year.

"We've been bracing for this all year," he said. If the cuts come in at 10 percent, he said the agency likely will be able to provide counseling to fewer children. The service is given to kids who are in trouble but not yet deep enough to merit being put in a shelter or juvenile detention.

"It's a preventive program," he said.

Those who run the Center for Independence Inc. expect to lose more than $51,000 in county subsidies to provide work transportation to developmentally disabled clients.

After Oct. 1, that money will be folded into the budget for the county bus system. But Emile Laurino, the center's chief executive officer, said his 90 clients will still lose out because that's primarily a day service.

"Sometimes our clients get off work at 9 o'clock at night," he said. "To get a cab it would cost their whole salary."

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

>>Fast facts

Uncomfortable equation

Gasoline @ $3.25/gallon

x 12 gallons in the tank

= $39 to fill the car

With a minimum wage job, it takes nearly six hours of work just to make enough money for gas.

Social services in Pasco brace for budget cuts 03/28/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 30, 2008 9:47am]

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