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Alberta’s safety net needs repair

Posted on April 23, 2014 by Lethbridge Sun Times

For close to 50 years, Family and Community Support Services has provided an important social safety net for Alberta’s most vulnerable citizens.

But the safety net is becoming frayed as a result of funding pressures that are only going to increase if the provincial government doesn’t take action.

That’s why Lethbridge Councillor Jeff Carlson is sounding the alarm. As indicated in a story in Sunday’s Lethbridge Herald, Carlson is worried about the province not pulling its weight in supporting the FCSS and its work in communities across Alberta.

Alberta is committed to pay 80 per cent of FCSS costs, with municipalities picking up the rest. But because the province has not provided a cost-of-living adjustment since 2009 and says it won’t consider doing so until at least 2017, the municipalities are having to shoulder an increasing portion of the financial load. Smaller communities, however, aren’t in a position to do that, and it threatens to put some important programs at risk — along with the people who depend on those programs.

In Lethbridge, there are 17 programs backed by the FCSS, including Canadian Mental Health, the Family Centre, Meals on Wheels, Community Links, the Boys and Girls Club, as well as outreach programs at both Lethbridge seniors organizations, to name a few.

Carlson, who is also president of the province-wide Family and Community Support Services Association, plans to raise the issue with Alberta’s new human services minister, Manmeet Bhullar, later this month. In a recent news release, Carlson noted Bhullar “has stated that his ministry should be focusing more on pro-active, prevention to support intervention, and that collaborative, non-siloed approaches are necessary. This is exactly the way FCSS staff and volunteers have worked in communities for over 40 years.”

Carlson said there are more than 320 municipalities and Métis settlements which participate in the provincial FCSS program, “ensuring that Albertans have access to a strong network of prevention supports and social services.”

Those services provide support to “Alberta’s most vulnerable seniors, children, youth, adults, newcomers. In many rural communities, the municipal FCSS program is the first line and the last line of contact for residents.”

Carlson said the latest provincial budget froze funding at $76 million, but about $135 million is needed to continue to meet local social needs.

If some of these social support programs begin to crumble, it will adversely affect the people who rely on those programs. Certainly the province has a duty to manage its budget, but it also has a duty to Alberta citizens. It can uphold that duty by maintaining a social safety net that has proven its worth for more than 40 years.

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