DeKalb’s Decaying Support of Social Services

**Correction and clarification added 11/30**

In DeKalb’s fiscal year budget for 2008, $214,000 was allocated in the legislative department budget for social services funding. Two years later, the amount was reduced to $150,000, because the city was still experiencing post-Great Recession budget crises.

The funding has never been restored. It’s been at $150,000 ever since, split between about a dozen agencies/programs.

In the proposed FY2017 budget under consideration now, administrators went so far as to zero out this legislative line item altogether. (**correction/clarification added 11/30: it still appears as a line item, though moved to the community development department, and not at the reduced amount discussed Monday.) Council quickly restored the funding Monday evening amid public outcry. However, I doubt that serious discussion of actual policy took place.

We do need to have that discussion. Should city government fund social and supportive services? If so, what’s the plan?

The line item in the legislative budget isn’t the only support of this type. There’s a utility rebate program for low-income seniors and people with disabilities, and a social services line item in the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Fund as well. DeKalb used to embrace its support; here’s the narrative for the legislative portion of the FY2008 annual budget:

The Legislative Department includes the City’s annual Human Services Funding program, which provides over $200,000 each year to local social service providers and is a companion to the $60,000 of public services funding provided through the City’s CDBG (Fund 72) program. Additionally, the Department provides the annual funding for the City’s ”Senior Citizens Utility Assistance Program” for low income senior and disabled homeowners. $18,000 in General Fund revenues has been allocated for this particular purpose in FY2008.

Times have changed. While there is an ostensible role for this kind of support in the city’s strategic plan, the city’s annual allocations, once approaching $300,000, currently total less than $220,000.

It’s a slow, unremarked-upon death. Is that what we want?