When Health and Community Services Minister Paul Davis recently referenced funding that was provided in the provincial budget, he was referring to money that went to the Health Authorities (i.e. Eastern Health).
It was given so the authorities could hire more health-care practitioners to help reduce waitlists for early diagnosis and provide vital followup services more quickly (e.g. speech language therapy, occupational therapy). It was good news that I hope will help solve a critical issue in our province.
The Autism Society Newfoundland and Labrador (ASNL) has been meeting with ministers and department officials and advocating for just such an investment. It’s a beginning!
The Autism Society applauds that investment by government to reduce wait times and provide children with an earlier diagnosis.
ASNL also applauds increased funding for Student Assistant allocations in the school system.
Unfortunately, neither of those funding investments gave any additional money to the Autism Society for delivery of programs, services and supports to ASD clients and their families around the province, or even for basic operations.
In 2004, ASNL received a grant from H&CS for $40,000 — it stayed at that level in 2005 and again in 2006, when the Elaine Dobbin Centre opened. It was built from money that was fundraised through a capital campaign.
The grant increased to $100,000 in 2007, following the centre’s opening and the beginning of program and service offerings; it stayed at that level in 2008 as well, but was then increased to $325,000 annually in each of 2009 and 2010.
The grants were not covering much more than two-thirds of fixed costs related to operations and program/service delivery.
ASNL fundraising was badly needed each year.
In 2011, a “one-time” grant of $60,000 was provided to add a staffed office in Corner Brook and establish the fourth region — Western. The total grant that year thus increased to $385,000.
Then, in 2012, the H&CS core funding grant was increased to $580,000 due to recognition of significantly increased operating costs and a necessary staff increase and additional program offerings to many more clients at ASNL.
That larger grant covered approximately 75 per cent of costs, with the balance still needing to be raised by volunteers on an annual basis. The core funding grant remained at that same level in 2013.
Then a 12 per cent reduction was made in 2014 and again this fiscal year, 2015.
Each of the past two years, with staff, programs, services, supports and costs much higher than previously — and with increased operational costs, ASNL lost $72,500 (or $145,000 in just two years).
This year, ASNL saw an end to federal wage subsidies at 100 per cent, used for hiring ASD clients for employment.
We are replacing them with wage subsidies from the province at 50 per cent of cost, which means we saw a 50 per cent cost increase to maintain our employment program.
A week ago we learned our federal Skills Link funding was not being awarded this summer, meaning we would not be able to hire an additional six young adults with ASD for three months.
We had already spoken with clients and determined availability for summer employment — we learned this a day after the work was to have started.
So, we at ASNL absorbed those costs, dug deep, and hired the six individuals anyway — and others, too — at a significant additional cost to operations.
If these challenges continue, volunteer fundraising, currently at approximately $500,000 annually, has to increase or staff will need to decrease.
ASNL delivers its mission through highly trained staff — any reduction means reductions in important programs and services that are not provided elsewhere.
ASNL really does needs greater support with its core funding from Health & Community Services, Advanced Education and Skills (for Supported Employment Program), and new funding support from the Department of Education.
The funding given to the Health Authorities never did feel like an increase in funding support to us.
Because there was no increase — none of that funding came to the Autism Society, NL. None.
Executive director, Autism Society, N.L.