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Fairfax Social Service Budget Cuts Defy Growing Need




Fairfax County’s principal social safety net programs funded and coordinated through the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB) face draconian cuts in their allocations in the upcoming county budget, despite a staggering increase in the need for their services by distraught citizens facing foreclosure, unemployment and lost retirement funds.

County Manager Tony Griffin’s proposed $3.3 billion county budget, which will be subject to modifications and final approval by the County Board this spring, calls for slashing the allocation to the CSB by $720,710, from $45,750,965 to $45,030,255.

This cut flies in the face of a stunning rise in the number of calls to the first line of social service defense, the CrisisLink hotline that deals principally with suicidal individuals.

“We deal with people who call us with pills or a gun in hand,” Carol J. Loftur-Thun, executive director of CrisisLink and a City of Falls Church resident, told the News-Press this week. “There has been a 70 percent increase in suicide-related calls in the last six months.”

She said that the sharp increase in calls have, since last May and June, been mostly related to job layoffs and financial troubles, and come from persons “who range from millionaires who’ve lost all their money to single moms living in their cars,” she said. Last October was particularly bad, she said. That month, the number of calls jumped 142 percent over the previous October.

Loftur-Thun hosted an annual spring lunch and fashion show fundraiser for CrisisLink at the Outback Steakhouse in Fairfax last Saturday. She was encouraged by the large turnout of citizens, but said that funding for her vital project has not even kept up with inflation in recent years. This is despite the fact that over the last five years, calls to CrisisLink are up 177 percent, and youth calls over the same time span are up 279 percent.

This time, however, the prospect of a direct funding cut looms.

The CSB, and CrisisLink which receives the lion’s share of its funds through it, is funded not only by Fairfax County, but by Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, proportionally, as well. Those jurisdictions have not yet released their prospective budgets for the coming fiscal year.

Individual giving is slightly up, Loftur-Thun noted, as citizens have been responsive to the obvious need for more services while government budgets get slashed. On the other hand, donations from foundations and corporations are way down, as many of them have lost great sums in the stock market in the last year. But she said she’s hopeful for a strong fundraising effort at an upcoming April 22 gala.

Growing citizen concern has also led to the two largest training classes this year for volunteers that the organization has ever had, she said.

The organization’s volunteers and supporters are expected to make a strong showing at upcoming public hearings of the Fairfax Department of Human Services later this month.

One of the strongest arguments for funding, Loftur-Thun noted, was its cost-to-benefit value to county taxpayers. “We calculate that we save the county more than $4 million a year that would otherwise have to be spent on emergency services of various kinds,” she said.

It’s a callous calculation, she noted, since the work of CrisisLink is to be a critical backstop against the most violent forms of human self-destruction, and not a way for taxpayers to save money. But sometimes the money argument is the only one that people can relate to.

CrisisLink’s efforts can be tracked on www.crisislink.org.