Social services cuts a worry in Alberta

Municipal leaders say Family and Community Support Services is vital to their communities and saves money later on

Rural and urban elected officials in Alberta are raising concerns about potential cuts to social service funding, suggesting such actions could put programs in jeopardy.

At the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) convention in September, municipal leaders said they’ve heard numerous rumours that there will be reduced spending on Family and Community Support Services (FCSS), a resource that offers numerous programs for rural and urban residents.

While cuts won’t be known until the fall budget, the speculation of reduced dollars has caused organizations to encourage MLAs to maintain current funding levels.

“If we don’t get that funding from the government and then have to pull back our funding, this is concerning,” said Jacquie Hansen, a city councillor in St. Albert, Alta., who sits on the Inter-City Forum on Social Policy.

In St. Albert, for example, FCSS dollars help fund the food bank, organizations that help protect people from domestic violence, children’s programs and seniors’ associations.

With the service, communities across Alberta are able to tailor programs to fit residents’ needs.

“It’s such a wonderful source of funding,” Hansen said. “Every municipality gets to use those funds to fill the social gaps needed in their communities.”

Hansen was one of many elected officials who raised concerns during the AUMA convention.

She said she’s heard from FCSS staff that cuts could be 15 to 50 percent, though those numbers haven’t been confirmed.

Cyndy Heslin, deputy mayor in Ryley, Alta., told ministers FCSS programming has increased over the last decade because of growing mental health issues and addictions among residents and an aging population.

Rural municipalities will have to shoulder more costs if funding isn’t increased, she added.

“Our small rural municipalities can’t afford to increase funding,” she said. “We are asking what can you do to help FCSS.”

In response to concerns, Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney said FCSS is important, but couldn’t guarantee that funding will remain at current levels.

“What I can tell you is we’re working on (the) budget, and I’m fighting tooth and nail to protect and preserve existing programs,” Sawhney told municipal delegates. “But obviously there are fiscal parameters we’re working with.

“I’m personally going to do my best, as is our government, to protect vulnerable Albertans.”

Hansen suggested Sawhney’s response wasn’t re-assuring.

“I hear she is going to bat and trying her best, but within that message, it’s inevitable there will be cuts,” she said. “That’s the message I heard.”

Hansen hopes potential cuts won’t be big, adding if that were to happen, it would cost the province more because people would potentially end up going through other aspects of the system.

According to an FCSS document, research shows that every dollar invested in preventive services saves $7 to $12 in future spending.

Vicki Van Vliet Vaitkunas, president of the Family and Community Support Services Association of Alberta, said the organization won’t know of funding decisions until the budget, but hopes it won’t be scathing.

She said it’s hard to know what’s coming.

“They (the government) are going to make their own decisions on what they think is best for them, and hopefully be good for the province, as well,” she said.

Van Vliet Vaitkunas said the association has been advocating the message that dollars put into FCSS save in future spending.

“We’re working with all the city and rural people to make sure their MLAs, who hold votes in the legislature, gets this message,” she said.

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