Concern over federal funds amid Puerto Rico Family Dept consolidation
SAN JUAN — The discussion over the consolidation of the Puerto Rico Family Department (FD) continued Tuesday, when the Servidores Públicos Unidos union (SPU) denounced the possibility that the move affects federal funds received by the agency, which would disrupt the services it offers.
During a joint public hearing by the Government Committee of both legislative bodies, SPU President Annette González urged the government to “be cautious, wary and secure” that these changes will not eliminate services.
“Servidores Públicos Unidos de Puerto Rico has no major objections to the consolidation initiative, as long as it does not affect the programmatic area, or services of the programs it handles, nor that they eliminate or alter the acquired rights of employees,” he said.
Despite accepting the “need to modernize the government structure,” the union questioned that the changes made so far have only sought to save “dollars and cents,” not necessarily improve upon the services citizens need.
Regarding the possible privatization of the agency, the union representing the department’s workers expressed its rejection categorically, saying in a 10-page document that its employees have the capacity to provide excellent service to the citizenry.
“The well-being of our children, our families and our elderly cannot be measured on the basis of a return on investment; families in need are not mere numbers. Our role deals with the protection of lives, quality of life and the well-being of families,” the document reads.
To prevent the privatization of the agency through House Bill 1142, the union suggested as an amendment to eliminate from the bill “all language in which the Family Department delegates its services and/or programs to nonprofits and private entities.”
The bill provides that the agency will be able to form partnerships with municipalities, nonprofits and government to offer of services and programs currently provided by the department, in addition to assuming the role of provider.
Moreover, the union said the workload at the agency has increased. According to statistics, the number of employees decreased by 40 percent, while the number of children in department custody increased from 2,700 to 4,127, or a 52 percent increase.
SPU represents more than 3,900 department employees, including support staff, clerical staff, maintenance workers, specialists, technicians, social workers and others.
Meanwhile, the Elderly and Retired People Advocate Office (OPPEA by its Spanish acronym) said approval of the measure would be a “setback” for the administration of the office and would represent additional costs, rather than the savings sought through legislation.
In a hearing for H.B. 1124–and its counterpart, Senate Bill 573–Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar assured that the department’s federal funding would not be affected, although she acknowledged that the bill has not been discussed with the U.S. government.
The consolidation of the Children and Families administration (Adfan), the Family Socioeconomic Development Administration (Adsef); the Child Support Services Administration (Asume); and the Child Care and Development Administration (Acuden) would result in $2 million in savings.