Months after the Madison City Council set aside $115,000 for programming and services for Madison’s Southeast Asian elders, the money has not been allocated due to a disagreement over who should receive the funds.
But the city may be getting closer to solving the problem. Staff have recommended the funds be equally divided between two competing organizations, and the city’s Committee on Aging voted in favor of that recommendation Wednesday.
Staff recommended giving $57,500 to Freedom Inc. and $57,500 to the Hmong Institute in 2020. It also recommended that funds be split evenly for the remainder of 2019; with $23,950 going to each organization.
Hmong Institute leaders say they are fine with the proposed division. But representatives from Freedom Inc., who spoke at Wednesday's meeting, were unhappy with the distribution of funds.
“I know that you are making the city look good, or in a way being fair … but it’s not fair to the elders who are needing the services," said Doua Vang, manager of Freedom Inc.’s program for Southeast Asian elders.
There’s been disagreement between Freedom Inc. and the Hmong Institute over leadership and who is best suited to care for the elders. At one point, city staff put forward a resolution that would have granted the $115,000 to Anesis through a non-competitive service contract. Committee meetings discussing the funds drew large numbers of attendees and public speakers, especially from SEAHC staff and elders stating their case for funding.
Eventually, in the interest of what Ald. Shiva Bidar called a “fully transparent” process, the City Council decided to create a Request For Proposals process to award the funds. Both organizations submitted proposals for the funding.
According to a memo from city Community Development Division staff, due to the “divide that emerged within the community,” it made sense to support Freedom Inc. and the Hmong Institute to make sure all elders are supported.
This decision was made after 12 hours of public comment at various city meetings, said Jim O’Keefe, director of the city’s Community Development Division.
“What we heard from dozens of elders was a very strong connection to a community organization and an unwillingness … to receive services from an organization other than that to which they were connected or affiliated,” O’Keefe said. “That, I think as much as anything else, was a critical factor in our conclusion.”
While both organizations offer culturally responsive programming, each proposal has “distinct strengths,” the memo said, and the Hmong Institute program is accessible to north and east side seniors while the Freedom Inc. program is accessible to south and west side seniors.
Ultimately, there wasn’t a big enough difference between proposals “to justify moving us toward awarding significantly more funding to one organization versus the other,” O’Keefe said Wednesday. The Hmong Institute projected it would serve approximately 75 elders, while Freedom Inc. said it would serve 105, but Hmong Institute proposed a slightly more intense programming schedule, O’Keefe said.
Originally, the city put out two separate RFP applications, one for case management and one for senior activities for Southeast Asian elders. In June, city staff recommended that Freedom Inc. receive $57,500 in 2020 for senior activity programming, and the Hmong Institute receive $30,000 for case management services and $27,500 for senior activities.
However, after making this recommendation, city staff learned that the Hmong Institute “is not currently able to provide case management services that align with the guidelines set forth in the RFP,” according to a July memo, so city staff then suggested that the $30,000 for case management be redirected towards senior activity programming at the Hmong Institute.
At a city Committee on Aging meeting Wednesday, representatives from Freedom, Inc, were unhappy with this redirection, saying that if the Hmong Institute could not provide case management, those funds should be redirected to Freedom Inc.
They described the constant and intense nature of their case management work, which they said requires a significant amount of time and money from the organization, including tasks like taking elders to collect medication, taking phone calls late at night to take elders to the emergency room, and helping elders attain citizenship or housing.
“To serve this population, we cannot do it without the case management,” Vang said, explaining that basic needs have to be met through case management before they can address mental health.
O’Keefe explained that city staff was directed by the City Council “to not use city funds where other funds were available to provide those services,” he said. In their application and when asked, Freedom Inc. estimated that 100% of its clients would be eligible for Medical Assistance, O’Keefe said, meaning its case management services would be billable to Dane County.
“On that basis, we dismissed the notion of providing city funds to Freedom Inc. for case management services,” O’Keefe said.
After the meeting, Tran said that while all of their clients are likely eligible, it’s a tedious and long process to enroll clients in Medical Assistance, taking 30 hours to enroll just one person. And some case management services Freedom Inc. provides may not be reimbursable by Medical Assistance, she said.
On Wednesday, the Committee on Aging voted in favor of the city staff funding recommendations. O’Keefe said that the Committee on Aging's recommendations will form the basis of a resolution that will likely be introduced to City Council on Aug. 6. for referral to the Finance Committee.
In a statement, Mai Zong Vue, board president of the Hmong Institute, said, "the Hmong community has diverse needs just like any community in Madison. The city's ability to fund two different agencies will give options for our elders."
Tran said Freedom Inc. would continue to advocate, contact elected officials and show up at Finance Committee and City Council meetings.
The dispute over funds began with the closure of the Kajsiab House in September 2018. Kajsiab House was a program of Journey Mental Health Center that served Hmong elders, including refugees and veterans who fought for the U.S. in the Vietnam War. Journey also provided a Cambodian Temple program, which served about 125 members of the local Southeast Asian population to gather and receive mental health care.
After Journey announced it was ending both programs, citing financial troubles, the community rallied and raised the money to provide services to the end of the year, with contributions from the city, county, businesses and individuals. The city also committed money to fund those services in 2019, but did not specify a fiscal agent to receive the funds.
The program, now called Hmoob Kaj Siab, relocated to the Catholic Multicultural Center off South Park Street and provided services with Anesis Therapy and the Hmong Institute. It is now located at Life Center Madison, 4402 Femrite Dr.
But some elders moved to the offices of Freedom, Inc., a social justice organization for communities of color, which also began hosting services to Hmong elders at its facilities via an organization known as the Southeast Asian Healing Center, or SEAHC. SEAHC also supported continued services for elders at the Cambodian temple.