Dismay at budget cuts to social programmes
Sweeping budget cuts across the Ministry of Community, Culture and Sport have been decried as “uncaring” by the Progressive Labour Party.
Shadow Minister Michael Weeks also questioned how the Mirrors youth development programme, which Government seeks to make independent, could be expected to survive after a $291,000 cut reduced its budget to $972,000.
“Keep in mind that we are in a recession — we must be careful with our social programmes,” Mr Weeks said in response to the Budget brief from Community Minister Wayne Scott.
“These cuts are an affront to the ordinary men and women of Bermuda at a time they are most in need of help from Government.”
Child and Family Services got a six percent cut in funding, with a “moderate reduction” in the Residential Treatment budget: $9.2 million to $8 million — which the Minister ascribed to a reshuffling of staff, bringing more efficient service with fewer children referred elsewhere.
Mr Weeks said the cuts in residential care were “of major concern”, adding: “This programme has to be manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week because of its very nature.”
The cuts affect services ranging from the Psycho-Educational Programme, to homes such as Observatory Cottage, now known as Oleander Cottage, and Brangman Home.
“We find it puzzling and disconcerting to think that during these times, that this Government, well aware of challenges that this country is facing socially, could not only overlook, but with a stroke of the pen make life more difficult for those most in need,” Mr Weeks responded.
Youth Residential Treatment came through with an 18 percent increase. Five other programmes were cut.
Mr Weeks called the 22 percent cut to the Psycho-Educational programme “whopping”.
“Residents with special needs were sent overseas to special facilities — what are we doing now with these special cases?”
Cuts to that programme, which took a 32 percent hit in the 2011 Budget under the PLP administration, were criticised by the One Bermuda Alliance as “a true travesty”.
At the time, Government sought to use at-home treatment for behaviourally challenged students — only to reinstate its funding at the next Budget, with then-Minister Glenn Blakeney saying there hadn't been sufficient resources on the Island to cater to severely challenged young people.
Budgeting for the Mirrors Programme, meanwhile, has dropped year after year. Mr Scott said the initiative would need community funding in the coming fiscal year, to cover its single residential intensive session.
However, he said this was in keeping with Government's mission to make Mirrors “100 percent independent”.
Mr Weeks said: “His explanation was that Mirrors was becoming more independent and less reliant on Government.
“With the current fundraising climate as it is, the potential for Mirrors failing increases dramatically without the financial backing of Government.
“This programme has been highly successful since being implemented under the former PLP government.”
One Department that came out ahead in the latest Budget was Financial Assistance, which got a 19 percent boost amid warnings from Mr Scott of the need to “nudge people off”.
A new schedule of allowable expenses for aid recipients was promised for “the very near future”.
“When it comes to Financial Assistance, this has to be looked at immediately, because of the changing scope and needs of the current climate,” Mr Weeks said.
“It is not enough to say that the rules were put in place by the former government. That kind of response has gotten old, and is of no benefit to the hungry Mr and Mrs Bermuda who see Government as their last resource.
“We talk about Bermudians who have left our shores over the last decade looking for employment and greener pastures elsewhere.
“Just like how this global recession has forced foreigners here who have lost their jobs to return home, the same has happened to some Bermudians who were working overseas to return home.
“The problem is that jobs are hard to come by and Bermudians must be back on Island for at least a year before becoming eligible for Financial assistance.
“Where do these people look to? Our current law must be addressed — and, in the meantime, address these people on a case-by-case basis.”
A Government initiative for behaviour-challenged students, the Psycho-Educational Programme, has drawn its share of controversy over funding cuts in recent years.
The Progressive Labour Party was chastised by the then Opposition Bermuda Democratic Alliance for cutting funding three years ago — with fears that young clients would be returned from overseas treatment and placed in the public school system.
The latest budget saw it cut to $2.4 million for 2014/15, down from $3.1 million.
Asked by The Royal Gazette if the Island now faced an influx of troubled students from overseas programmes, a Ministry spokeswoman referred us to the Budget brief.
Community Minister Wayne Scott’s brief stated that the programme was “expected to meet its target of ensuring that 100 percent of young people transitioning home have an agreed reunification plan, and that they receive follow up for a minimum of six months following the completion of the reunification plan”.
It continued: “Having a reunification plan, and supporting the family during the transition, has resulted in greater long term success.
“The challenge arises when there is no viable family option and independent living is the only alternative.”
A Ministry spokesman later clarified: “The Department of Child and Family Services is providing more effective assessment and services for children in Bermuda. We are seeing improved results locally. As a result, it is anticipated that the number of days required abroad for a child to receive more intensive psychoeducational services will be reduced. We are not eliminating necessary services to those in need.”