ANNAPOLIS — State officials said they opted to ignore budget language and only fund some youth services based on programs that had measurable outcomes instead of continuing a decades-old approach.
The change resulted in two Youth Services Bureaus, both in Baltimore County, not being funded. The decision by the Governor’s Office of Children touched off a firestorm of legislative criticism and resulted in a hearing Tuesday before the House Appropriations and Senate Budget and Taxation Committees.
Arlene Lee, executive director of the Governor’s Office for Children told the two committees that the decision to not fund three programs was a difficult but necessary one.
“Ultimately we feel these services we funded will have the kind of outcomes we’re looking for,” said Lee.
Earlier this year the Governor’s Office on Children delayed $1.8 million intended for nearly 2,500 teens receiving counseling and suicide prevention and substance assessments in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Prince George’s counties.
Since then, the state has restored funding to most programs, though it did not use money fenced off by the legislature. Three programs — one in Annapolis and two in Baltimore County — have not had their nearly $200,000 in funding restored.
In six of the last seven years the legislature has designated money for the programs. Last year, the General Assembly did not mandate the spending because of a handshake agreement made between the governor and the bureaus. This year, the legislature included language specifying how the money was to be allocated.
Hogan balked at the move to require how the money was spent.
Maryland’s bureaus date back to the early 1970s and arose out of a federal program that was supported at the time by the U.S. Department of Justice. But later studies questioned the effectiveness of the programs.
Lee said that this year the decision was made to move away from funding legacy programs out of habit to a focus on using limited resources more effectively.
“What we ended up doing was not following the budget language,” said Lee.
Lee and others said the programs were targeted because of data that showed the programs were not effective.
Advocates for the bureaus argue that the state is using one set of data and misinterpreting it to the detriment of needed programs.
“We believe this action to be a result of the lack of understanding of our services,” Sargent said.
Peggy Higgins, director of College Park Youth and Family Services, said the state misrepresented some of the numbers when it defunded five programs in Prince George’s County by averaging the performance of all the bureaus together when only two were failing.
“The best conclusion we can come to regarding this misrepresentation of data is that the Governor’s Office for Children truly does not understand the data,” said Higgins.
Not all advocates for youth services are critical of the change. Pamela Brown, director of Anne Arundel County’s Local Management Board, which acts as a pass-through entity on state grants to youth services bureaus, said the change has allowed them to redistribute resources to areas of the county that are in the most need.
In her county, funds were shifted from a program in Annapolis that was defunded by the state to the northern area of the county, where there are concentrations of youth homelessness and food disparities, she said.
Lee, in response to legislator questions, said that no children would be affected by the decision to defund programs and said that in Dundalk, Catholic Charities was filling the gaps.
“I’m confused as to why we’re here,” said Del. Jeff L. Ghrist, R-Middle Shore.
Supporters of the youth services bureau programs said the charity was not fully replacing the eliminated organization.
Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore City and chair of the Appropriations Committee, told Ghrist that local agencies and programs received little to no warning their funds were about to be cut.
“This is a severe communication issue,” McIntosh said. “We’re here because of the very severe communications problem that affects the lives of children and families.”
But Brown, the Anne Arundel County official, said the funding change was a benefit to her county’s program.
“This is the first time we’ve been given the freedom to assess needs in a big way,” she said. “We rarely get to be strategic with our work. This was the first time we were encouraged to do it and we did it well.”