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Budget cuts justification baffles non-profit group

Freedom of Information request suggests there may be more cuts coming

by Robert Devet

Jean Coleman, executive director of the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living, believes that new Community Services rules to qualify for discretionary grants are unworkable. Photo Robert Devet.
Jean Coleman, executive director of the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living, believes that new Community Services rules to qualify for discretionary grants are unworkable. Photo Robert Devet.

KJIPUKTUK, (HALIFAX) - It was never entirely clear why earlier this year the Department of Community Services chose to cut discretionary grants to a variety of organizations that work of behalf of vulnerable Nova Scotians.

Groups like the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Metro Food Bank, the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living and People First were all affected.

Through a Freedom of Information request the Halifax Media Co-op has now received information that sheds some light on the Department's reasoning.

What we uncovered doesn't bode well for organizations that help people struggling with poverty,mental health issues and/or disabilities.

Some of the conditions organizations need to meet to qualify for government support are simply not realistic, community advocates tell the Halifax Media Co-op.

And never having been informed by Community Services about those standards doesn't help, they say.

Most information that we received through the Freedom of Information request is so heavily redacted, that it is meaningless. But a powerpoint presentation to senior management dated February of this year contains actual requirements.

Some conditions are rather straightforward.

In order to qualify for funding you have to be a Registered Canadian Charity, or registered at the Registry of Joint Stocks. You have to have a full time Director or Coordinator. You have to operate in Nova Scotia. The list goes on.

Other conditions, in particular the need to be outcome focused and to measure and report the impact of Community Services dollars, may sound simple but present huge hurdles.

“We make a difference in people's lives. But to quantify (that difference) is very difficult,” says Jean Coleman, executive director of the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living (NSACL).

“How do you measure someone who is in crisis for whatever reason,” Coleman wonders.

Coleman's organization supports people labeled with intellectual disabilities and their care givers. Some of its programs are well defined in terms of scope and targets. But much of the help it provides is ad hoc, and highly individualized.

Now the group faces a $24,000 annual cut to an original $79,000 grant. That's a 30 percent cut to its entire yearly operating budget.

Stella Samuels is a NSACL staff person who frequently provides hands-on support to the people who, often at the end of their tether, come looking for help.

“It is so varied, it's so broad, it has to do with housing, it has to do with food security, it has to do with income assistance,” Samuels tells the Halifax Media Co-op. “We make sure that school boards follow their human rights policies, we help people manage their healthcare needs.”

“We often help people transition from one life stage to another,” she says. “Leaving high school and figuring out what to do in adulthood. I have several families where the parents are dying and they need to make sure that their sons and daughters have security for the rest of their lives. We help people through their entire lifespan,” Samuels says.

Much of what organizations such as the NSACL do is difficult to fit into a neat monthly report to Community Services. But what bothers Coleman even more is that the department never told the group that these were the standards they should meet.

“We (recently) had a meeting of some other groups that have received cuts,” says Coleman. “We all received phone calls on the same day, and all with the same message, that we don't follow the roadmap, and by the way, you've lost your funding.”

“We're helping a young man who is working in the community but he has no place to stay and he has no money for food. And he has just begun. How can you work when you don't have a place to lay your head?,” Coleman asks.

“When you are dealing with human lives, there is no tick off box,” Coleman says. “The most vulnerable people in Nova Scotia are going to be harmed by this (cut).”

And the presentation suggests that there may be more cuts to come.

All service provider agreements and grant funding to external organizations are under the microscope. The Discretionary Grants program is simply the first to undergo review and redesign, the presentation states.


Follow Robert Devet on Twitter  @DevetRobert


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