With shrinking government budgets at all levels, some advocates for social services programs are picking their battles this year.
The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board is focusing its efforts on restoring about $1.3 million of the $5.2 million proposed to be cut from the agency's funding under County Executive Anthony Griffin's draft fiscal 2011 budget plan. The CSB provides mental health and substance abuse treatment, as well as services for people with intellectual disabilities.
Fairfax County is facing a $257 million budget shortfall and all county agencies are getting smaller budgets to work with next year.
The Community Services Board was able to accommodate about 70 percent of its designated funding cut without severe impacts to services, according to Lynn Crammer, CSB president. However, the board leadership decided they could not accept proposed cuts to emergency treatment services.
"There are limits to how far we can cut," Crammer said. "We have an obligation to defend our clientele."
The CSB is asking for the restoration of funding for emergency mental health services, substance abuse counselors in the county jail and a few other staff positions.
They are engaging other nonprofit and support groups as well as consumers of the services to help make the case to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Crammer said.
"It's scary for these consumers," she said. For some people, losing access to day treatment could mean being institutionalized, she said.
Other groups are focusing their advocacy resources on restoring proposed state budget cuts to "safety net" services.
Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement has been leading a grass-roots effort to maintain funding for free dental clinics in the state. About 250 group members traveled to Richmond last week to lobby legislators and hold a rally in support of the funding.
Rev. Keary Kincannon, pastor of Rising Hope Mission Church on Fairfax County's Route 1 corridor, said the group picked the dental issue because dental health can affect a person's general health, as well as their job prospects.
"So many low-income adults do not have adequate dental care," Kincannon said. "Virginia is one of the few states that will not allow adults to use Medicaid for dental care."
This week, VOICE members began calling conferees about the dental clinic funding, he said.
The Arc of Northern Virginia, an advocacy group for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, makes its case for services for those affected groups every year, but is trying different approaches to get legislators' attention in this tough budget year, according to Co-Executive Director Nancy Mercer.
Arc got people with disabilities and their parents to speak at this year's state budget hearings, "but our legislators just didn't seem to hear," Mercer said.
Using social media, the Arc is now gathering personal stories from people who depend on state Medicaid services on a daily basis and will start compiling those stories to try and continue to make their case, Mercer said.
"The reality is that we're a small part of the population and we have a huge story to tell," Mercer said.
Narrower focuses do not mean advocates are not concerned about the big picture, both Kincannon and Crammer said. The cuts the Community Services Board is "absorbing" still mean reductions in services and larger case loads for staff, Crammer said.
"We're concerned about the whole safety net," Kincannon said of VOICE. "The dental issue is the issue that we have chosen to go to bat over."