Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Funding delays result in layoffs at Md. child services agencies

Amanda Sabino and Aaron Bruzzese, program directors for the Substance Use and Delinquency Prevention programs, rally some children at the Dundalk Youth Service Center to play some games out in the field behind their office. Programs like these are suffering cutbacks because the governor is withholding funding. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Amanda Sabino and Aaron Bruzzese, program directors for the Substance Use and Delinquency Prevention programs, rally some children at the Dundalk Youth Service Center to play some games out in the field behind their office. Programs like these are suffering cutbacks because the governor is withholding funding. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

A decision to delay the release of $1.8 million in state funds intended to pay for services to at-risk teens has resulted in layoffs at two centers.

Advocates say the eight centers serving more than 2,500 teens receiving counseling and suicide prevention and substance assessments in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Prince George’s counties were targeted because of a misinterpretation of data that suggests those organizations were underperforming.

Aaron Bruzzese, co- director for the Adolescent Substance Use and Delinquency Prevention program, plays Uno with some of the children at the Dundalk Youth Service Center. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Aaron Bruzzese, co- director for the Adolescent Substance Use and Delinquency Prevention program, plays Uno with some of the children at the Dundalk Youth Service Center. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

“The Governor’s Office for Children looked at this one data point and made a determination on what they thought they understood and eliminated the funding for eight bureaus,” said Liz Park, vice chair of the Maryland Association of Youth Services Bureaus and the director of the Greenbelt CARES Youth Services Bureau.

The data in question is meant to show if a teen seeking counseling has made significant progress on the issues for which he or she came to the center. Park said that kids who scored low on the scale are not counted in the report because they don’t meet the standards for “significant progress” even if they end up completing the program and shown they’ve resolved their problems.

Dundalk Youth Service Center. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Dundalk Youth Service Center. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Matt Clark, a Hogan spokesman, acknowledged the funding had been withheld from the eight centers, saying three were expected to be closed by their respective local governments and five others had not met performance standards for “formal counseling” programs.

“There are clear guidelines for performance and not all of the youth services bureaus are meeting those standards,” Clark said.

Of the remaining 12 centers, Clark said, the governor had concerns regarding the legislature fencing off money. Rather than not funding those centers, Clark said the governor instead approved a plan to leave the restricted money alone and fully fund $1.25 million for the remaining 12 bureaus through another pot of money that Hogan requested for workforce training for teens and services for children of incarcerated parents.

Park said she was aware of differences between the Annapolis bureau and the county’s Local Management Board that partners with the organization and acts as a pass-through entity for the state grant. She added that the Annapolis Bureau had not been subject to any corrective notices that would be required to cease operations.

The General Assembly this year earmarked $1.8 million for the programs, some of which operate as nonprofits and others under the auspices of a local government agency,  in the fiscal 2017 budget. The authorization includes language that specified how the money was to be allocated. The eight centers affected were expecting to receive a total of $600,000 on July 1.

The language was similar to that used in budgets since 2011. Last year, language mandating the spending was not included in the budget after advocates came to a verbal agreement with the state on the spending. It was added back this year after the state would not enter into a similar agreement, according to Park.

Park said the decision to withhold the money also affected $2.5 million in additional grant funding. The Governor’s Office for Children elected to use $2.5 million in grant funding for additional youth services to fund the annual budgets of the other 12 centers while completely holding back the $1.8 million set aside for the organizations.

The lack of funding has caused Annapolis Youth Services in the last week to lay off its three employees and an intern. Those employees have continued to work with their existing clients on a pro bono basis. The delay in funding also puts in jeopardy a 20-year old annual holiday party that serves as many as 140 children.

A center in Dundalk is facing a similar situation and started laying off staff Friday.

Linda Bryan, executive director of the Dundalk Youth Services Center, said she believed the center would receive about $105,000 from the state this year — about one-third of its annual budget — until officials were notified on June 30 by the county that the state funds had been withheld. The center’s budget year begins on July 1.

“There was no transparency, no information, there was nothing,” Bryan said.

On Friday, the center laid off one of its 11 employees. Bryan said if the money isn’t released soon, she could lay off as many as three more by the end of July and then the situation becomes dire.

“It remains to be seen if we can even keep our doors open,” Bryan said.

The center, which dates to 1972, offers services to youth 12-17 years old years who either have substance abuse issues or are at risk for them — a concern heightened by a growing heroin problem. On Friday, about eight kids were involved in activities at the center’s drop-in summer center. Over 100 teens are members of that program.

“In our area, we have higher (substance abuse) rates than other areas of the county,” Bryan said.

First-term Dundalk state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, R-Baltimore County, said he and other legislators representing the area have been in communication with the governor’s office over the issue but were not clear why the money was being held up.

“It bothers me,” Salling said. “I think it bothers anybody that it’s come to this place. The question here is where’s the money, why isn’t it here now?”

Salling said he h0ped there would be some resolution before the center was forced to close.

“We don’t want to lose these services for the kids, and we don’t want anyone to lose their jobs,” Salling said.

Del. Shelly L. Hettleman, D-Baltimore County and a member of the House Appropriations Committee, criticized the way in which centers were notified.

“I’m very concerned about the lack of notice, lack of transparency about how decisions were made, who made them, and how the decision allows for no period of transition,” said Hettleman, who represents northwestern Baltimore County.

The funding for the youth services is separate from $80 million in state funds set aside by the legislature that Hogan is also delaying.

The legislature earlier this year approved a budget that fenced off the funds, which had been moved from the state’s so-called rainy day account. The money would go toward teacher pensions, Medicaid payment increases, and some public safety projects. Lawmakers stipulated an all-or-nothing spending requirement on the governor.

Hogan has balked at mandated spending and earlier this year drew a line in the sand, telling lawmakers if they fenced off money he would refrain from spending it and allow it to revert back the state’s general fund as a savings.