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Agencies suffer as recession takes toll

Bert Muller, the usually optimistic president of the Pinellas Association for Retarded Children (PARC), is not happy. Like the rest of the economy, charitable organizations and social agencies are taking a beating because of the recession. And budget cuts _ some made definite last week by the Legislature _ are a body blow.

Muller's PARC, which gives Pinellas County's retarded adults a chance at independence, is suffering. PARC depends on state dollars and private donations for its budget.

"There was a time when I could always look forward to growth. But now I sense an ending, I sense a beginning," Muller said.

"I've taken a lot of chances in my life and they've always paid off. But we've had no increases in our budget for years, and now HRS" _ the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services _ "is telling us we're going to have a 2 percent cut.

"Also, I'm talking about the banks and businesses that have closed and changed hands, and don't have local funding sources," he said. "And my expenses are going up between 3 and 5 percent a year. Oh, PARC will go on. We'll fight to see that it does."

One bright spot has been the $45,000 given to PARC during the past year by the League to Aid Retarded Children (LARC). But other special events and financing sources have not been as fruitful during the past six months.

"There's a sudden departure from the past aggressiveness to do a little better and a little more for these people," he added. "But it's not just our organization. It's across the board."

Money shrinks, but not need

Operation PAR (Parental Awareness and Responsibility), a countywide drug rehabilitation agency based in Largo, has not been an aggressive community fund-raiser, said Shirley Coletti, Operation PAR president. That is because most of PAR's money comes from state and federal sources, including the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health (ADM) office, which is an agency of Health and Rehabilitative Services.

But state budget cuts are draining those financial sources.

"We've had some federal funding come our way that will be depleted in two years," Coletti said. "We've already absorbed about a $300,000 cut across the board, and we still have about 215 people waiting to get into drug abuse treatment."

Coletti got the bad news Wednesday. Because ADM is facing a budget cut from the state, that agency must reduce financing for PAR adult substance abuse programs beginning July 1. "We regret the necessity of this action and will work in the future for legislatively appropriated replacement funds," wrote Martha Lenderman, ADM program supervisor, in a letter to Coletti.

The cut in adult substance abuse programs in Pinellas and Pasco counties will be about $1-million. Of this, Coletti expects about $600,000 in PAR financing to be cut.

"These cuts will be absolutely devastating," she said. "We will have to reduce service to pregnant substance-abusing women, to intravenous drug users who are the highest-risk group for transmitting AIDS.

"It seems ludicrous that with people on the waiting list for services, particularly pregnant substance-abusing women, that we are adding millions for prenatal care," she said, referring to Gov. Lawton Chiles' emphasis on financing for prenatal care for all women.

"Obviously, there wasn't any new money, so part of our drug abuse money will be going to this," Coletti said. "Our mothers need complete rehabilitation, detoxification, job training and care for other children, not just counseling about what kind of food they should eat and measuring their tummies."

PAR officials are trying to raise money for Drug Free Workplace Initiative with few results, Coletti said. "Where we used to get $5,000, we're getting $500," she said. "Corporations are feeling the pinch."

PAR officials have been heartened by a study on drug abuse in Pinellas County that they just released, Coletti said.

"Cocaine use has gone down about 5 percent since January 1990 among those arrested and booked," she said. "I'm sure that this is due to the fact that PAR has been able to expand its services. Now we're faced with having to decrease those services."

Boley Inc., a company based in St. Petersburg that provides comprehensive services for people with psychiatric disabilities, also is feeling the pinch.

"We're going into our third year with no cost-of-living increase from the state," said Paula Hayes, Boley's director. "This makes it very difficult with the way living expenses have gone up."

Boley receives 60 percent of its financing through the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health office. Other financing comes from Medicaid, Pinellas County and a variety of other sources, but community financial support also is necessary.

An annual Boley fund-raiser, a conference for workers in mental health and related fields, has been discontinued.

"It used to bring in $3,000 to $4,000," Hayes said, "but last year, for the first time, it went in the red. Attendance was significantly down." She said budget tightening within many organizations is responsible.

Some give more

The Juvenile Welfare Board (JWB) is another agency feeling the pinch. The agency has not received an increase in financing from the state in three years, said Jim Mills, JWB director.

"There has been a lot of anxiety over the state budget," Mills said. "The dollars just aren't there. We already know of two agencies that are looking at significant losses.

"There's a lot of crunch on the discretionary dollar. Although the United Way campaign has done very well, the (troubled) financial institutions were always a major supporter of community affairs."

While others may be cutting back on giving, some are giving more to try to make up the difference. "I have heard people say, "I gave a little more this year because I know times are rough,'

" Mills said. "But generally I'd say that we are looking at a softening of the charity market."

Latchkey Services for Children Inc. is among the agencies Mills referred to as losing money. Linda Morlock, Latchkey director, said Latchkey has applied to JWB for financial aid through its contingency fund.

"We would have to discontinue services to 58 children" if the money is not allocated, Morlock said. The cut aims at the after-school service for mentally and physically handicapped children.

"Last year was the first year we had gotten funding for this, and the grant was to be recurring funds," she said. The program was to be a model for the rest of the state, which has no other such care for handicapped children.

"These children are at the bottom of the heap when it comes to child care, and if anything, their parents have more needs," Morlock said. "Often the children are in diapers for the rest of their lives, and many are single-parent homes."

Specific programs that are not statewide are targets for cuts in financing, she said.

Donna Beach, director of community relations for Alternative Human Services, said that organization will take a $106,000 cut in financing for its information referral services, known as Hotline.

"We are panicked," she said. "We had a staff meeting (Thursday) to try to decide what we are going to do to keep the program operating. We were anticipating the cut but did not know the magnitude of it."

Agency officials already had been working closely with HRS to see how they could minimize the effects of the cut. "We will have to cut back some lines to Hotline because we wouldn't have money for counselors to handle them," she said.

The 24-hour Hotline service handles 80,000 calls a year, she said. A recent General Telephone Co. survey showed that callers are getting 1,000 busy signals a week. The agency also follows up on callers whenever possible to see if they used recommended services and if the services were satisfactory.

Waiting for figures

Lenderman, of the ADM, works with the Legislature and champions the cause of agencies under ADM. But she is playing a waiting game to determine where her efforts will be needed.

"The budget cuts don't take effect until July 1, but we don't get our operating fund until right before then," she said. There will be a 2 percent decrease in financing for agencies under ADM.

She said she was distressed about the $1-million cut in adult substance abuse money in Pasco and Pinellas counties. The cut is a round figure that could vary from $700,000 to $1.4-million, she said. "If it is the higher figure, we'll definitely go to bat for them.

"My concern is that we have a recession and funding has been reduced to these vital services at a time when people are going to need them the most," Lenderman said. "I can't tell you how supportive our (legislative) delegation has been in these alcohol and drug abuse services, but if there are no resources, there are no resources."

Muller of PARC said he agrees that the economy is in a recession but he is concerned it might not end. "I see a decline rather than an arrest in St. Petersburg," Muller said. "I would say that .


. we could tip the balance if that baseball franchise doesn't go through or if anything happens to Bay Plaza."