Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 106
04/12/2005 03:00 PM House HEALTH, EDUCATION & SOCIAL SERVICES
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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HB 231-HUMAN SERVICES GRANT ELIGIBILITY CHAIR WILSON announced that the first order of business was HOUSE BILL NO. 231, "An Act relating to the definition of 'municipality' for purposes of human services community matching grants." [Before the committee was the committee substitute (CS) for HB 231(CRA), Version 24-LS0791\G.] CHAIR WILSON turned the gavel over to Vice Chair Seaton. 3:12:45 PM CHAIR WILSON introduced HB 231, as sponsor. She described the proposed legislation as "a human services matching grant program." Currently, the only communities that receive [matching grants] are Anchorage, Fairbanks, and - most recently - the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Valley. Those communities qualify because they meet a population requirement. The original bill version would expand the definition of a qualified municipality to include a consortium of municipalities located in the same geographic area, with a population that exceeds 50,000; however, an amendment was adopted in the last committee of referral to change that number to 35,000. CHAIR WILSON said in order to qualify for the grants, a municipality must: provide 30 percent of the funding, comply with the grant application process, and establish a citizens' advisory group to help establish the priorities in the area "and to see who gets the grants." The proposed legislation would allow Southeast Alaska to qualify for the grants "if they were under the umbrella of someone else." She added, "We're looking at Southeast Conference to be our umbrella." She said that organization presently works closely with the communities of Southeast Alaska. She listed [organizations that are currently providing services in Southeast Alaska]: Center for Community, United Way, Alaska Health Fair, Inc., Southeast Alaska Food Bank, Catholic Community Services, [Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE Inc.)], Alaska Legal Services, and Southeast Senior Services. CHAIR WILSON stated, "I really think this is a fairness issue." She noted that there was a shift in the legislature this year when it set a precedent by opening up the availability of grants for utilities that were private and previously could not get grants. 3:16:50 PM CHAIR WILSON, in response to a question from Representative Gardner, said she is not aware of anyone who is opposed to the bill. VICE CHAIR SEATON asked Chair Wilson if her intention was to have the latest bill version adopted by the committee. 3:17:47 PM CHAIR WILSON said she would rather work with the original bill than with the committee substitute [currently before the committee, produced by the House Community and Regional Affairs Standing Committee]. She expressed that there may be some reluctance by the communities already receiving the grants to allow other communities to participate at a lower minimum requirement; they would rather see communities pull together in order to "get more bang for the buck." She said she would leave it up to the committee to decide; however, she predicted the chances of the bill succeeding would be better if it were in its original form. In response to a question from Chair Seaton, she confirmed that the only difference between the original bill and the version from the House Community and Regional Affairs Standing Committee is the population requirement. 3:19:01 PM REPRESENTATIVE CISSNA revealed that, as a member of the House Community and Regional Affairs Standing Committee, she had participated in the discussion regarding the population requirement of HB 231. She said a committee member from the northern part of Alaska had stated concern that it would be difficult enough for communities in that region to band together to meet the requirement of 35,000, let alone 50,000. CHAIR WILSON responded, "That's left up in the air in the bill, so that if communities want to pull together to do this, they can." She said geographic area is not defined in the bill. She indicated that the intent of the bill is to provide the opportunity for communities to succeed in getting grants if they choose to do so. CHAIR WILSON [indisc.] VICE CHAIR SEATON, in response to Chair Wilson, suggested that the intent of the committee now was [to continue to use the House Community and Regional Affairs Standing Committee's bill version already before the committee]. 3:22:06 PM ROSEMARY HAGEVIG, Member, Board of Directors, Southeast Conference, testified on behalf of Southeast Conference. She told the committee that she is also the executive director of a regional social services organization that could potentially benefit from the bill. She stated that many regional social services providers in Southeast Alaska support HB 231. She reported that the last U.S. Census data shows that the total population in Southeast Alaska is just over 70,000; therefore, the region would qualify. She said the social services infrastructure in the region is having an increasingly difficult time coming up with specific grant amounts in the various budgets. The proposed legislation would provide an opportunity to infuse an additional level of resources into the community. She stated, "Certainly, from my own personal experience and what I know to be in place already, we more than would be able to meet the required 30 percent match." MS. HAGEVIG said there was some discussion in the last committee of referral regarding the fiscal note. She said, "In our conversations with the department, they shed some light on why that truly would be a zero fiscal note, even thought they did provide some scenarios about eventual costs." She offered further details. She stated, "The other thing that we would like to make very clear is that we are not interested in seeing anything happen that would not hold harmless our neighbors to the north. Certainly what is going on in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and now in MatSu is of critical importance; we just would like to share in the opportunity to be able to participate in the same kind of a program." MS. HAGEVIG concluded by noting that there are a number of organizations under the United Way umbrella in Southeast Alaska that provide region-wide services, and between the Southeast Conference Board and the United Way Board, there would have no difficulty at all in putting together the required kind of fiscal oversight that would be necessary. 3:25:54 PM JANET CLARKE, Assistant Commissioner, Central Office, Finance and Management Services, Department of Health & Social Services, explained the fiscal note prepared by the department. She said the zero fiscal was prepared for Version G. She stated, "Because the program is based on prorata proportion of population, it does not in and of itself require an increase of appropriations." For example, she illustrated that if the appropriation is $1 million, no matter what number of grantees or municipalities qualify, the amount would be prorated. Second, Ms. Clarke noted that if the bill were to pass, it would not affect the municipalities who have already applied for the program by October 1, 2004 and would have profound impact on fiscal year (FY) 07. She explained, "The legislation requires that municipalities apply before October 1 of the preceding fiscal year, so for FY 06, the grantees who would qualify would be Anchorage, Fairbanks, and MatSu." MS. CLARKE reviewed the two scenarios provided by the department, which are both based upon "the change to 35,000." The first scenario assumes that regional consortiums would form for all regions of the state and that there would be no additional money for the program appropriated by the legislature. She added, "If that were to occur, then Anchorage, MatSu, and Fairbanks would see significant reductions in their shares of the appropriated funds, and other communities would see a corresponding increase." The second scenario, which is illustrated on page 4 of the fiscal note, uses the same assumptions in the first scenario, but there would also be an assumption that the legislature would appropriate additional funds to hold all communities harmless and still provide grants "for all the other communities." The hold-harmless portion of the second scenario would cost an additional $613,483. VICE CHAIR SEATON asked, "Why is it that only these certain-size population areas are given those grants and they are not extended to other areas that may have the same kind of programs and be able to come up with a local match?" 3:29:46 PM MS. CLARKE responded by offering a synopsis of the history of the program. She said the program was put into statute in 1992. Prior to that, there were block grants provided to Anchorage and Fairbanks, which began in the early 80s when money was abundant. She said, "The idea at the time was that Fairbanks and Anchorage were disproportionately affected by social services programs, because they were such large hub communities; people came to those communities for services, and the view was that the state ought to offset some of those costs that the local communities were absorbing." At the same time there was a lot more money available for designated grants for other communities throughout the state. Ms. Clarke said that that money does not exist anymore in her department, and she offered her understanding that it doesn't exist in any other department either. The statute was written in 1992 so that Anchorage and Fairbanks would qualify. Now, because of its population increase, the Matanuska Susitna Borough qualifies for the grants, which has changed the dynamics of the funding for the program. MS. CLARKE, in response to a question from Vice Chair Seaton, said she thinks there were some other designated grants to other local communities that are no longer designated in the budget. She stated that there was more opportunity for other local municipalities to get social services funding. CHAIR WILSON interpreted Ms. Clarke to have said that "everybody was getting some kind of extra help - as funds - in all the areas, but slowly, as the money tightened up, they discontinued the help in the smaller areas, but Anchorage and Fairbanks continued with theirs." MS. CLARKE responded that that's correct. She offered her understanding that, at one point, the social services block grants were up to $4 million and have been "ratcheted back to the level they are now." She added, "Certainly the block grants themselves have been reduced, as well." 3:33:30 PM HEATHER WHEELER, Deputy Director, Municipality of Anchorage, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), had her testimony read by Molly Cullom, Grant Administrator, DHHS, as follows: The Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services supports HB 231 and the effort to expand human service matching grant programs to benefit more Alaska communities. However, with that expansion, we would hope the legislature would ensure sufficient funding to hold current recipients harmless. Passing this legislation with sufficient funding will allow more communities to provide the essential safety net services to prevent or alleviate serious physical or mental hardship in this state, while not diminishing services in current recipient communities. Through grants to local nonprofit agencies, the human services matching grant supports the basic services that are critical to our state's most vulnerable citizens: children, abuse victims, those in temporary crisis or homelessness, and senior citizens. ... Human service grant funding was originally made available to larger Alaska communities in the 1980s in an effort to offset the disproportionate demand coming from people all over the state. The municipality continues to serve the state as a hub community, drawing and attracting people for services around the state to Anchorage. Because Anchorage serves so many people from outside its borders, it is in this state's best overall interest for the legislature not to decrease funding for Anchorage in order to make room for more communities. Currently, 65 percent of Anchorage's human service matching grant funding goes for food and shelter programs. These services are associated with people on the move, people in crisis, and people in transition to and from rural communities. The municipality of Anchorage believes in being a responsible citizen of the State of Alaska and, as such, has never closed its doors to people from outside of Anchorage who seek services. Because of this, if more communities become eligible for human service dollars, we ask that sufficient funding be provided to sustain current services. VICE CHAIR SEATON said the committee would probably be "looking at that support"; however, that would happen a year, or so, in the future, "because we're not talking about our current budget." 3:37:12 PM CHAIR WILSON stated her intentions for the bill were not to make things worse for any other area in the state. She asked Ms. Clarke if she would submit an increased budget to the governor if, for example, she were to get two new applications by October 1. MS. CLARKE responded, "We would certainly prepare the request to the governor so that he would be aware of what the implications would be if that was not funded." She added that that information would be made available to the legislature, as well. VICE CHAIR SEATON conveyed to Ms. Wheeler through Ms. Cullom that if all the grants are going through the main communities and are not provided to the outlying communities, that tends to bring the people who need services to the hub communities. He said he thinks the purpose of the bill is "to allow some distribution so that we can keep people in the communities where they reside." VICE CHAIR SEATON closed public testimony. REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER moved to report CSHB 231(CRA) out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, CSHB 231(CRA) was reported from the House Health, Education and Social Services Standing Committee.