Austin City Council’s fiscal year 2015-16 budget, which took effect Oct. 1, included an increase of more than $7 million for health and human services and social services.
At a Nov. 7 council committee meeting, Shannon Jones, director of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, detailed where that money will go.
The bulk of those funds—$2.5 million—will support health department infrastructure, including tobacco control and diabetes and obesity prevention as well as ensuring health care is culturally and linguistically appropriate for the city’s diverse population, Jones said. The department's total FY 2015-16 budget is $87 million.
Health department infrastructure funding will also benefit HIV care, maternal and child services, and public health screening services.
The department is using $1.05 million toward health equity contracts, including services for the elderly; sexual health and wellness for the LGBT community; immigrant mental health services; maternal and infant health services; and addressing African-American health disparities, Jones said.
He said he hopes to award contracts for the services by March and have programs up and running by April. Another $1.825 million is allocated for social service contracts, he said.
Before the presentation, Vince Cobalis, vice chairman of the Asian American Quality of Life Commission, said health services geared toward the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community were lacking. He suggested establishing community health navigators from Austin’s Asian-American population.
“There’s been good progress in this area for Hispanics,” he said. “We need to have a more systematic availability of Asian-American interpreters and translators.”
Jones said the department plans to cater to the needs of all of Austin’s minority groups.
“What we heard from the community is that there are significant and unique issues in different communities,” he said. “Beyond just the health equity dollars, there will be efforts as part of our infrastructure to focus in on those communities as well.”
Jones said in the next few months, the department will focus on hiring 37 new employees. He said he hopes most new hires to start Jan. 1.
“There’s a lot of work that has to go into that,” he said of the hiring process.
The $7 million boost also included one-time funding appropriations for increasing healthy food options and ongoing funding for rental assistance to decrease the city’s homeless population.
“In my 40 years of public health I’ve never been in a department that had this level of funding provided to public health infrastructure,” he said.