Fund­ing re­duc­tions hurt­ing Autism So­ci­ety ef­forts

The Compass - - OPINION -

When for­mer Health and Com­mu­nity Ser­vices Min­is­ter Paul Davis re­cently ref­er­enced fund­ing that was pro­vided in the provin­cial bud­get, he was re­fer­ring to money that went to the Health Au­thor­i­ties (i.e. Eastern Health).

It was given so the au­thor­i­ties could hire more health-care prac­ti­tion­ers to help re­duce wait­lists for early di­ag­no­sis and pro­vide vi­tal fol­lowup ser­vices more quickly (e.g. speech lan­guage ther­apy, oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy). It was good news that I hope will help solve a crit­i­cal is­sue in our province.

The Autism So­ci­ety New­found­land and Labrador (ASNL) has been meet­ing with min­is­ters and de­part­ment officials and ad­vo­cat­ing for just such an in­vest­ment. It’s a begin­ning!

The Autism So­ci­ety ap­plauds that in­vest­ment by govern­ment to re­duce wait times and pro­vide chil­dren with an ear­lier di­ag­no­sis.

ASNL also ap­plauds in­creased fund­ing for Stu­dent As­sis­tant al­lo­ca­tions in the school sys­tem.

Un­for­tu­nately, nei­ther of those fund­ing in­vest­ments gave any ad­di­tional money to the Autism So­ci­ety for de­liv­ery of pro­grams, ser­vices and sup­ports to ASD clients and their fam­i­lies around the province, or even for ba­sic op­er­a­tions.

In 2004, ASNL re­ceived a grant from H&CS for $40,000 — it stayed at that level in 2005 and again in 2006, when the Elaine Dob­bin Cen­tre opened. It was built from money that was fundraised through a cap­i­tal cam­paign.

The grant in­creased to $100,000 in 2007, fol­low­ing the cen­tre’s open­ing and the begin­ning of pro­gram and ser­vice of­fer­ings; it stayed at that level in 2008 as well, but was then in­creased to $325,000 an­nu­ally in each of 2009 and 2010.

The grants were not cov­er­ing much more than two-thirds of fixed costs re­lated to op­er­a­tions and pro­gram/ser­vice de­liv­ery.

ASNL fundrais­ing was badly needed each year.

In 2011, a “one-time” grant of $60,000 was pro­vided to add a staffed of­fice in Cor­ner Brook and es­tab­lish the fourth re­gion — Western. The to­tal grant that year thus in­creased to $385,000.

Then, in 2012, the H&CS core fund­ing grant was in­creased to $580,000 due to recog­ni­tion of sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased op­er­at­ing costs and a nec­es­sary staff in­crease and ad­di­tional pro­gram of­fer­ings to many more clients at ASNL.

That larger grant cov­ered ap­prox­i­mately 75 per cent of costs, with the bal­ance still need­ing to be raised by vol­un­teers on an an­nual ba­sis. The core fund­ing grant re­mained at that same level in 2013.

Then a 12 per cent re­duc­tion was made in 2014 and again this fis­cal year, 2015.

Each of the past two years, with staff, pro­grams, ser­vices, sup­ports and costs much higher than pre­vi­ously - and with in­creased op­er­a­tional costs, ASNL lost $72,500 (or $145,000 in just two years).

This year, ASNL saw an end to fed­eral wage sub­si­dies at 100 per cent, used for hir­ing ASD clients for em­ploy­ment.

We are re­plac­ing them with wage sub­si­dies from the province at 50 per cent of cost, which means we saw a 50 per cent cost in­crease to main­tain our em­ploy­ment pro­gram.

A week ago we learned our fed­eral Skills Link fund­ing was not be­ing awarded this summer, mean­ing we would not be able to hire an ad­di­tional six young adults with ASD for three months.

We had al­ready spo­ken with clients and de­ter­mined avail­abil­ity for summer em­ploy­ment — we learned this a day af­ter the work was to have started.

So, we at ASNL ab­sorbed those costs, dug deep, and hired the six in­di­vid­u­als any­way — and oth­ers, too — at a sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tional cost to op­er­a­tions.

If these chal­lenges con­tinue, vol­un­teer fundrais­ing, cur­rently at ap­prox­i­mately $500,000 an­nu­ally, has to in­crease or staff will need to de­crease.

ASNL de­liv­ers its mis­sion through highly trained staff — any re­duc­tion means re­duc­tions in im­por­tant pro­grams and ser­vices that are not pro­vided else­where.

ASNL re­ally does needs greater sup­port with its core fund­ing from Health & Com­mu­nity Ser­vices, Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion and Skills ( for Sup­ported Em­ploy­ment Pro­gram), and new fund­ing sup­port from the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion.

The fund­ing given to the Health Au­thor­i­ties never did feel like an in­crease in fund­ing sup­port to us.

Be­cause there was no in­crease — none of that fund­ing came to the Autism So­ci­ety, NL. None.

— Scott Crocker is the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor for the Autism So­ci­ety, N.L.

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