THE BUZZ: Slashed But Not Burned, Yet

By on January 10, 2017

Local agencies battered by the storm of 2016 budget cuts fear further reductions.

Children’s Learning Center provides integral community services that may suffer if it sees another round of state budget cuts. (Photo: Children’s Learning Center)

Children’s Learning Center provides integral community services that may suffer if it sees another round of state budget cuts. (Photo: Children’s Learning Center)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – As the Wyoming Legislature convenes, local health and human services organizations are girding themselves against more budget cuts after recent painful slashes in funding.

In response to the energy sector’s sluggish revenues, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead cut the state budget by nearly $250 million in the last fiscal year. Consequently, the Wyoming Department of Health alone had to cut $90 million from its budget. That meant steep cuts to a number of Teton County agencies that receive state funding through the health department, as well as other area nonprofits that contract with the state.

“There was no way to do those kinds of reductions without affecting real people,” said Kim Deti, public information officer for the Department of Health. “We had to make tough choices. Our leadership tried to minimize the impact on safety net services, and vulnerable provider groups that are more dependent on our funding.”

Among the affected orgs is the statewide entity Prevention Management Organization (PMO), which contracts with the Department of Health to provide suicide prevention and alcohol, tobacco and drug prevention services. PMO weathered a 16 percent budget cut in 2016. According to Matt Stech, PMO community prevention specialist for Teton County, the future of the organization could be uncertain.

“We are currently waiting to see if there will be potential cuts via the legislature or motions for elimination,” Stech said. “It’s hard to say what we should expect. But at the minimum we expect a budget cut. At worst we’ll be eliminated by the legislature.”

The effects of cutting PMO’s funding further or eliminating the organization could have profound consequences. Amid the national rising suicide rate, which increased by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, Wyoming suicide numbers have held steady. Suicide prevention advocates say this is testament that prevention efforts in the Cowboy State are working.

Since 2015, PMO Teton County trained nearly 400 people in suicide prevention and distributed 4,500 gunlocks to aid in such efforts.

In a town where alcohol is widely served at community events and a casual attitude towards drinking pervades the valley milieu, an absence of PMO’s alcohol prevention work would also sting. Among its myriad efforts to combat substance abuse, PMO staff educate professionals, health care providers, business leaders, parents, educators, and students about the risks of substance abuse and community approaches to reduce the risk. It has worked with law enforcement to provide free responsible beverage server training and has worked on ordinances to prevent community alcohol problems.

The drug and alcohol treatment organization Curran Seeley Foundation endured a $70,000 shortfall in funding in 2016. “We anticipate more cuts for this next fiscal year, but are not sure of how much, which makes it really difficult to plan for the future,” said executive director Trudy Funk.  “The last thing I want to do is cut services, as that means individual people will be affected, which means the health of our entire community will be affected.”

Funk said she had to scramble to deal with recent budget shortfalls. She has left certain staff positions vacant, which has burdened existing staff. “Basically, I didn’t fill all of my previously available positions. So I’ve got less staff, doing more work,” Funk said.

Now, another concern for the organization is the impending repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which will affect some of Curran Seeley’s clients. “When people are able to pay for services it certainly increases our revenue stream and we don’t have to subsidize as much,” Funk explained.  

The Children’s Learning Center (CLC) is in a particularly precarious position when the state starts slashing funds. Executive director Patti Boyd explained that 89 percent of the CLC budget comes from the state.

“We have been told we may face additional cuts,” she said. “All special education providers are anticipating that may be the case.”

Like a number of core health and human services organizations, CLC is funded through a unique private-public partnership with the state. In other states, there might be a state agency for children’s learning. But in Wyoming, those services are contracted out through local nonprofits. It’s a model that Boyd says is cost effective.

“The state has chosen to offer these services through nonprofit organizations,” Boyd noted. “That has proven to be much more fiscally responsible because the state is not responsible for employees and buildings.”

In 2016, CLC lost $100,000 in state funds, and had to dip into its rainy day fund to make up for the shortfall. Like Funk, Boyd is looking at making adjustments to her budget that will affect employees, measures like cutting hours.

Organizations like CLC provide essential services that affect communities further down the line. Experts agree that addressing developmental delays early in a child’s life ensures far more successful outcomes than if those needs are ignored, Boyd explained. “It costs a lot to try to fix things later in life. Early childhood programs have a proven positive cost savings outcome, and the children can reach much more of their full potential. But unfortunately the state does not feel they have the opportunity to take advantage of that concept.”

Adults with developmental disabilities may also see changes to the services available to them. Right now the organization that serves them, Community Entry Services (CES), is in a holding pattern, according to director Lindsay Long. “We don’t have a projected budget cut yet, so we are trying to remain hopeful,” she said.

But Long also has done some belt-tightening, including cutting employee hours and some staff positions. She said that since 2008, CES has had its budget cut 12.5 percent with no cost of living adjustments. And cost of employee health care has gone up 27 percent each year.

“We haven’t seen raises in four years and we’ve had to stop capital projects,” Long said. “Just keeping daily operations going has been our main focus.”

To make up for budget shortfalls, various nonprofits will not only look at areas where further cuts can be made, they will also have to rely more heavily on private donations. Boyd hopes to bring in an additional $100,000 for CLC to make up for the state shortfall, on top of the $500,000 she already had budgeted to come from private donations.

Long says private dollars will be have to be an increasing piece of the funding puzzle too. Ten percent of CES’ $1.3 million dollar budget is slotted to come from donations in the upcoming fiscal year, an increase from years past.

“We will continue to focus on fundraising,” she said. “We’ve done a good job of communicating our need so far.” PJH

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About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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