Cutting the volunteers an odd way to save money

By the Herald editorial staff

Through the years, as governor after governor -- including the current one -- have tried to eliminate a small agency with a small budget, the Legislature has come to the rescue.

It appears to be happening again this year.

The agency is the Family Policy Council and its Community Health and Safety Networks.

This is the only state agency manned by 10,000 volunteers, and where, until now, small individual grants of state dollars could be directed to nonprofits fighting childhood abuse and domestic violence.

In our own community, it was grants through the Benton and Franklin County Networks that kept Safe Harbor Crisis Nursery open during its early years.

Last legislative session, the Family Policy Council volunteers saw a 50 percent budget cut. That was the Legislature's doing. Gov. Chris Gregoire simply left the Family Policy Council out of her budget altogether.

The Networks' programs in other counties address everything from teenage alcohol abuse on an Indian reservation to a cooperative effort with the state Veterans Affairs Department to help ease the transition for returning war veterans and their families.

The Family Policy Council has provided remedies for many of the changes facing society over the years.

A major study in 2009 found major advantages for Washington counties with Community Networks.

In counties with Family Policy Council Networks, "overall severity of problems (child abuse and domestic violence prevention in particular) decreased or remained stable while they worsened for those counties without state-funded Community Networks," the study found.

The report concludes: "The Family Policy Council Community Networks build community capacity that is a powerful means for reducing targeted rates of child and family problems and, eventually for making these problems less severe, even in communities challenged by demographic changes, poverty and poor economic conditions. It has important policy implications for the future as the state faces economic downturns and budget cuts in social and health services."

This prescient report coincided with the 50 percent cut in the Networks' budget.

Both the House and Senate budgets include the Family Policy Council's Networks this time, the House continuing at the current budget of $3.8 million over two years and the Senate cutting it by $300,000 in the second year.

Let's hope the House version is adopted.

Perhaps it is because the Family Policy Council has never had a large state-paid staff that some legislators and governors have short-changed it.

We are all for cutting the budget where it makes sense.

But in this case -- where the state's own evidence is that it has gotten more for dollars spent from this little agency than just about any other -- additional cuts don't make sense.