Federal Way council debates cuts to social services

In this file photo, a volunteer sorts food at the Multi-Service Center Food Bank in Federal Way. - Mirror file photo
In this file photo, a volunteer sorts food at the Multi-Service Center Food Bank in Federal Way.
— image credit: Mirror file photo

As federal funding for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) is reduced, cities like Federal Way are left with the task of figuring out how to apply the federal reductions to local programs.

During its April 17 meeting, the Federal Way City Council debated the wisdom of applying an across-the-board 11.57 percent cut to a number of social services programs, chief among them, the Multi-Service Center's (MSC) Emergency Feeding Program.

Councilmember Dini Duclos, former CEO of the MSC, said she felt an 11.57 reduction to the Emergency Feeding Program affected it greater than the other programs affected by the reductions.

"For four years, I've sat up here silent, every time the food bank has been cut," Duclos said. "I know it's a very difficult process that the people on the Human Services Commission go through. Now that I'm no longer a part of the Multi-Service Center, I can tell you that I have stood out in the food bank and watched the people, with the children, coming through. It has grown, year after year after year. We have infants, we have toddlers, pre-schoolers, school-age kids in the summertime. The worst thing we can do, really, is cut the food bank. It's a vital, vital need for families."

The MSC's Emergency Feeding Program had originally requested $8,002 through the CDBG program. With the 11.57 percent reduction, that would go down to $7,076, a difference of $926. In comparison, a few of the other programs that applied for CDBG funds included FW Inclusion program, which originally asked for $26,000, but will receive approximately $23,000 instead. Orion Rehabilitation Services requested $17,974, but with the federal reduction, will receive about $15,000 instead.

Mayor Skip Priest noted the above point, saying the Human Services Commission decided on across-the-board cuts as being the most equitable.

"A recommendation was made by the mayor's office because of challenges of identifying who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in what are very necessary services, that there be a 11.57 percent across-the-board cut," Priest said.

Duclos would not be deterred. She said that with the feeding program's smaller amount request, the 11.57 percent reduction affects it to a greater degree. Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell agreed.

"Councilmember Duclos' comments really ring true to me. The cut of $1,000 in regards… to real food to real people in the community is a concern to me. I think there is a hierarchy of needs, and I'm not sure I put dental care on the same level as immediate feeding programs for infants and people that are really in crisis," Ferrell said.

Councilmembers Linda Kochmar and Jeanne Burbidge both had a thought on how to preserve the funding for the Emergency Feeding Program. Kochmar suggested the council pull funds from elsewhere in the city coffers. Burbidge, on the other hand, suggested that turning to the community might be a powerful solution to keep money flowing to the Emergency Feeding Program.

"We have a very generous community. I have seen our community step up, so many times. Last week there was a Boys and Girls Club breakfast that raised over $60,000. This morning, there was a breakfast to benefit DAWN (Domestic Abuse Women's Network), which is an organization to combat domestic violence, and that breakfast raised over $68,000," Burbidge said. "I would venture to predict that if we informed the community that there is a reduction in the funds available to the city for allocation, that people would step up very quickly and donate $926, and perhaps a little more."

Duclos acknowledged both Kochmar and Burbidge's suggestions. Duclos suggested that the reduction to be applied to the feeding program should instead be applied to the other agencies. If that were done, those agencies would see an additional slight reduction of approximately $185. Duclos motioned for her idea, with Ferrell giving the second. However, the discussion was not done, as Councilmember Roger Freeman said he was concerned that the council is, in effect, taking money from one group of citizens in need and giving it to another group.

"So what I hear is the council is taking $1,000 from the other agencies. I don't think that's fair. It was 11 percent across the board, and that's the most efficient way to deal with a reduction of federal funding," Freeman said. "What I'm hearing is that we're going to take money from the elderly, and give it to our very young. So again, we're having to pull money from one population to address another population's needs."

Councilmember Susan Honda suggested that this funding debate be referred back to the upcoming Finance Economic Development Regional Affairs Committee (FEDRAC) meeting next week. Duclos, after Honda's suggestion, called for a vote to move the discussion along.

The council voted 5-2 in favor of Duclos' motion to split the proposed reduction to the Emergency Feeding Program among the other agencies. Freeman and Honda were the dissenting votes.


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