The April 17 meeting of the Cuyahoga County Health, Human Services and Aging committee consisted primarily of a discussion about a resolution to extend the master contract for emergency assistance services through Cuyahoga County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Currently, the contract is set to expire at the end of April 2019. The proposed extension is for one year, to April 30, 2020. An additional $600,000 would be allocated for the additional year.
Bob Math from the Cuyahoga County Department of Health and Human Services spoke on behalf of DCFS. He explained that DCFS contracts with four organizations, three for furniture and appliances and one for food, to help families in crisis purchase furniture, appliances and food. In 2018, DCFS spent more than $800,000 on furniture, an average of $500 to $2,000 per family. The agency spent $215,000 on food last year, an average of between $100 and $200 per family.
Councilman Dale Miller noted that the agency spent more than $1 million on this program last year, yet the proposal for renewal is for just $600,000.
The committee asked Math several questions. Councilman Dale Miller noted that the agency spent more than $1 million on this program last year, yet the proposal for renewal is for just $600,000. He wanted to know if this meant that services would decrease. Math responded that they won’t, but he expects that this contract will need to be amended to add additional funds at some point during the year. Miller then asked if the ratio of the program’s funds (79 percent from federal dollars, 21 percent from Cuyahoga County’s Health and Human Services levy) would be the same for money added to the contract during the year. Math stated that it would be.
Councilwoman Shontel Brown asked for a clarification on the formula, noting that two providers were allocated the exact same amount of money under the contract. Math stated that, since this was a master contract, the funding amounts for the various organizations could be shifted internally once the contract was approved. Those numbers could then be adjusted based on the needs over the course of the year.
A family only receives enough money to provide for the needs of the children.
Vice President Pernell Jones asked if the amount spent for this program had increased or decreased over the years. Math stated that he would have to double check on exact amounts, but he was sure that spending had increased. Jones then noted that just $65,000 was allocated to the lone food provider on the contract. He inquired if the $215,000 spent on food last year was about average or abnormal. Math answered that it was about average. In response to a follow-up from Jones, Math confirmed that he fully expected to come back to ask for additional funds part-way through the year. Jones then asked why, if it was clear that the amount requested would not be sufficient, the renewal was done this way rather than asking for the full amount up front. Math replied that this was the number he was given by the DCFS fiscal department. The numbers in the initial contract effectively serve as placeholders since the funds can be moved around. Jones next asked how these funds were distributed to families that needed to purchase furniture or appliances, noting that it had been mentioned earlier that the money for the grocery store was distributed via gift card. Math responded that it was done through purchase orders.
LaTasha Brown, a senior manager at DCFS, then joined Math at the podium to explain the process in more detail. She also answered the next question from Jones regarding how families could access these services. LaTasha Brown stated that DCFS staff investigates claims arising from calls received on their hotline. A family only receives enough money to provide for the needs of the children. She stated, for example, that a family with bed bugs would only receive enough money to purchase new beds for the children, not for the adults. LaTasha Brown, responding to a follow-up from Jones, then said that she didn’t know if calls to Cuyahoga County’s 211 number were transferred to DCFS’s hotline.
Cuyahoga County is able to extend the contract one more year after this if they so choose.
Miller ended questioning by asking if the contract would be renewed again after this year. Math said that the initial call for proposals included two one-year options, meaning Cuyahoga County is able to extend the contract one more year after this if they so choose.
The final action of the committee was to suspend the third reading of the bill, allowing the contract to go to a council vote after the second reading. There was no other miscellaneous business to attend to, and the meeting was adjourned.