Under intense pressure from families and advocacy groups, the provincial government on Wednesday announced an $8.9-million boost to Community Living B.C., the agency that provides services for developmentally disabled adults throughout the province.
The funds, earmarked for “urgent health and safety needs,” will provide new services to about 540 people, including some who are eligible for services but haven’t been receiving them, the government said.
But the additional funds fall far short of the $70-million critics say is required to bridge a funding gap that has emerged as government spending has failed to keep up with growing numbers of clients relying on the agency.
“I think it’s a good start, but I think if we’re not careful, it will be a Band-Aid and we will be right back at this same conversation very shortly,” Faith Bodnar, executive director of the advocacy group B.C. Association for Community Living, said following a technical briefing in Vancouver by government staff.
Ms. Bodnar also disputed government statements that an ongoing service review at the agency is focused on finding the best possible outcome for clients, saying that the process is driven by cost-cutting.
“This is a service reduction, not a service review,” she said.
The additional funds speak to government “responsiveness,” Community Living B.C. chief executive officer Rick Mowles said at the briefing.
Asked about the $70-million figure cited by advocacy groups, Mr. Mowles said it would be “unrealistic” to think that any one ministry or one Crown agency would get a 10-per-cent increase in its budget.
The additional funds will bring Community Living B.C.’s 2011-2012 budget to $710-million, up $17.8-million, or less than two per cent, from last year. Mr. Mowles was not immediately able to provide a number of people who are waiting for services. In an e-mail, the NDP Opposition caucus said more than 1,700 people were waiting for services last year.
Critics say per-client funding to adults has decreased every year since 2006-2007 and that group home closures – about 60 over the past two years – have been driven by cost-savings, not client concerns. The province, however, says it has a mandate to deliver appropriate supports and services to individuals and that group homes may not be the best solution for every client.
For parents such as Janet Gan, the ongoing uncertainty around funds and programs is discouraging and stressful.
Ms. Gan’s son Jeffrey, now 19, is autistic and non-verbal. Before he turned 19 and “aged out” of the Ministry of Child and Family, he was eligible for support and services that included regular respite care that allowed Ms. Gan – who has had a stroke and other health problems – to send him on outings. When he turned 19, those services stopped, Ms. Gan said, adding that after extensive lobbying she has since obtained support several days a week.
“He has to be in a structured environment,” Ms. Gan said.
Other families are grappling with unexpected moves or other changes, including the loss of programs.
When a review found that none of the residents of the Aldergrove home where her brother has lived for more than 30 years were suited to different placements, the operators still had to find cost savings – and so cut outings for residents from once a week to twice a month, Michelle Traynor said Wednesday.
“They definitely need some more [money]to function at the level that they were before,” Ms. Traynor said.
Harry Bloy, the Minister for Social Development, said he is the only minister in government who has been successful in extracting additional funds from Treasury Board, although he still expects to be a target for criticism in the legislative session that begins next month.
“I worked to get these dollars. ... I’m proud of the work I was able to do to get more money for funding Community Living B.C. and will defend what we are doing.”
With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria