Public Health: Services for the elderly, foster kids in jeopardy

PUBLIC HEALTH: Francis Epres works on sanitizing supplies and pre-screens customers at the Department of Public Health and Social Services’ Division of Environmental Health Processing Center Section which issues health certificates and sanitary permits, among other services, at its office in Dededo. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

A wide range of government services at the Department of Public Health and Social Services for senior citizens, foster children, homeless people and family violence victims are at risk of cuts because of a funding shortfall.

Acting Director Arthur San Agustin wrote in a memo on Sept. 15 to the governor's office that the Legislature's version of the fiscal 2021 budget, which will take effect in two weeks, will result in a $10 million shortfall for senior citizen and welfare programs.

The budget the Legislature approved would "cause significant operational shortfalls within our agency," primarily certain essential services, San Agustin wrote.

For most of the following services, GovGuam would only have funding through December of this year, and services beyond that would be discontinued, the acting director stated.

Senior citizen services 

The following senior citizen services will be discontinued from January to September 2021:

• adult-day care services 

• in-home services  

• senior center services 

• transportation services; and the

• 24-hour emergency protective services shelter.

Home-delivered weekend meal services for senior citizens would be discontinued for all of the fiscal year

The following welfare services will be affected:

• Foster care payments would be discontinued from Jan. 16, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2021.

• Alee Shelter I  and Alee Shelter II services for abused and neglected children would be discontinued from January to September 2021.

• Guma San Jose services, a government-funded homeless shelter, would be discontinued from January to September 2021.

Funding for contractual services under the Division of Senior Citizens will be cut by $6.7 million, the acting director stated.

The Division of Public Welfare faces almost $4 million in funding cuts, of which $1.4 million will be from payments to foster care families and nearly $1.3 million for the two Alee shelters and Guma San Jose shelter, San Agustin wrote.

"All the above services are critical to the mission of the department," according to San Agustin. "I know that we all value the immeasurable work done by Public Health and Social Services and I hope additional funding can be identified to assist the department during these most trying times," he added.

The department contends it cannot use federal CARES Act funding for existing contracts and services that were in place prior to COVID-19 and are not related to COVID response.

The governor had proposed a budget that would fill the funding gap in her proposed version of the fiscal 2021 GovGuam budget.

The Legislature rejected her budget on Monday and, by a vote of 12-2 on Tuesday, voted to override her veto of the Legislature's budget version.

Furloughs possible?

Speaker Tina Muña Barnes, who initially voted in favor of the Legislature's slightly more conservative spending approach, stated that she learned the Legislature's version of the budget would lead to 80 individuals at Public Health being furloughed.

Public Health has indicated to the governor's office it must make a choice between cutting existing contractual services for senior citizens and welfare programs and sending employees on furlough in the midst of its fight in the pandemic.

The fiscal 2021 budget, now law at $950 million, is comparable to the fiscal 2020 budget, but that is due to federal grants, which increased by $46 million, largely from Public Health through Medicaid.

In terms of the general fund, available revenues had been slashed by about $15 million while special funds were reduced by about $35 million, for an overall reduction of about $50 million compared to revenues available for appropriation in fiscal 2020.

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