December 5, 2012
Vol: 19 No: 49

News

County panel charts path to new revenue

By Aaron Burkhalter / Staff Reporter

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The King County Council wants a team of community members to create a plan for an “accountable and integrated system of health, human services and community-based prevention.” In other words, they formed another blue-ribbon panel.

But amid that wonky lingo, service providers see an opportunity to get dedicated funding for the social and health needs of the region’s low-income population.

Councilmember Julia Patterson drafted the legislation, which passed in November, asking County Executive Dow Constantine to examine how to coordinate and fund health and human services in the area.

It’s not just for efficiency, said AJ McClure, Patterson’s spokesperson. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which is meant to provide health insurance to 30 million people, the county needs to reassess its own health services.

Reorganizing health and human services puts the county in a stronger position to ask the Washington state Legislature and voters for more revenue.

“We have to make sure that the money and those tax revenues are going to be spent in an efficient and effective way,” McClure said.

Beginning in late January, the county will organize a group of 25 or more community members to examine the region’s services for clinical health, homelessness, mental illness, chemical dependency, unemployment, domestic violence, developmental disabilities and other services.

Through these meetings, the county will develop a plan for how to integrate county and community services and, more importantly, how to fund them.

The county’s done this before, said Julia Sterkovsky, executive director of the Seattle Human Services Coalition. In 2006, then County Executive Ron Sims organized similar panels, which looked at human services and determined that funding was inadequate.

But she said the landscape has changed for better and worse. The passage of the Affordable Care Act will provide millions with health insurance. But the 2008 economic collapse brought brutal cuts to human services. If this panel really looks at human services in the area, Sterkovsky said, it will find a growing need and diminishing resources.

In 2006, the county had $26.5 million in general fund dollars set aside for health and human services. In 2013, there will be less than $1 million.

“We’re hoping that ultimately we can use this as a tool to raise awareness about the unmet needs in the community,” she said.

Sterkovsky said she hopes the panel will put pressure on voters and the legislature to generate dedicated revenue for human services.

For human services providers, this panel is the end game, said Mike Heinisch, co-chair of the King County Alliance for Human Services and executive director of Kent Youth and Family Services. If the work of the panel doesn’t convince the state legislature to provide more dedicated funding, he said the county has few options other than a voter initiative, which is costly to organizations working on threadbare budgets.

“As we sit here today,” he said, “it’s the last good shot on the table.”

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