Community Services Agency Scrambles to Blunt Effects of State Budget Cutbacks
By MANDY LOCKE
As the reality of state budget cuts trickles down to communities across the commonwealth, Martha's Vineyard Community Services is taking its share of hits.
"This is devastating across the board to this Island. It shakes the foundation of the support network we've created," said Ned Robinson-Lynch, executive director of Martha's Vineyard Community Services, in a conversation with the Gazette this week.
The Massachusetts Department of Mental Health cut 18 per cent - some $20,000 - from its funding for the Community Services emergency hotline. The hotline, staffed 24 hours a day, provides emergency assistance for patients struggling with psychological crisis.
Mr. Robinson-Lynch said this cut will be the hardest to absorb.
"How do you trim emergency services? We can't say we'll stop covering emergencies on Saturday night," Mr. Robinson-Lynch said.
The Department of Mental Health also slashed 25 per cent from outpatient services, a program offering financial assistance to uninsured children who need counseling. The Department of Public Health cut 10 per cent across the board and an additional 10 per cent from substance abuse counseling offered to inmates leaving the Edgartown House of Corrections. The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Resource Center cut $2,000 from vocational training for special needs adults at the Island Employment Center. Child Care Services lost $5,200 in assistance for children referred by the Department of Social Services. The smoking cessation program budget dropped some $13,000 - which Mr. Robinson-Lynch said was due in part to underutilization of the program.
"It's really unconscionable. It's all in service to a tax cut - is this something we want to be doing?" he said.
Community Services will attempt to find means to absorb the costs internally.
"We ask the question, ‘How do we affect services the least?' We might cut some training for staff," Mr. Robinson-Lynch said. He said they may also request to shift any surpluses from one program to another - a benefit to having a multi-program agency.
Community Services will try to compensate for remaining losses through fundraising. But that's a challenge, as the agency already raises approximately $200,000 annually.
"Frankly, this may not be the best way to run a business, but we cannot abandon the people we serve," Mr. Robinson-Lynch said.
He said Community Services braced for some hits as the economy began to falter earlier in 2001. Cost of living increases for staff were delayed from July to January of this year.
"It's difficult for our staff to live here under these circumstances, but we can handle this. If the cuts continue, however, we'll have to curtail some programs," he said.
And Mr. Robinson-Lynch knows more cuts are a real threat.
Community Services' current losses in funding resulted from $650 million in slashes from a $22 billion state budget finally approved by the legislature in November - five months behind schedule. But as state revenues continue to free-fall, acting Governor Jane Swift has threatened to evoke emergency powers to cut another $10 million and freeze $90 million in state programs for the remaining five months of this fiscal year.
"We are not out of the woods yet. I could get a call any day about more cuts," Mr. Robinson-Lynch said.
He said projections for the next fiscal year look even more grim.
But as Community Services swallows the reality of a bleak economy, Mr. Robinson-Lynch draws strength from the resiliency of Community Services during massive cuts in state funding in the early 1990s.
"It was every bit as bad, and we survived it," he said.