Countys WIC program gets funding boost

April 1, 2011
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The Kent County Health Department recently received a $232,845 USDA grant through the Michigan Department of Community Health for its Women, Infants and Children’s program, a free nutrition program for pregnant and breastfeeding women and for their children who are 5 and younger.

The WIC program provides clients with multiple benefits, including EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards that help them buy nutritious foods, educational tips on how to eat nutritiously, and immunizations. The program serves about 21,300 clients annually.

Bill Anstey, deputy administrative health officer, said the additional funding will go toward aiding clients who are at the highest level of nutritional risk. Undertaking this effort, he said, will cost the department more, and the program’s funding formula recognizes the additional expenses involved with tackling the higher-risk issue.

The grant raises the department’s budget for the WIC program from slightly less than $3.1 million for this fiscal year to more than $3.4 million.

At the same time, the grant was announced, Kent County commissioners ratified increases to 42 health department fees and established seven new charges. All the increases were reported as being necessary to cover escalating costs for providing the services. The annual revenue from the new and higher fees has been calculated at $143,831. Here are a few of those changes:

  • A new fee has been established for the food-service industry. A licensed establishment will be fined $200 if it doesn’t have a certified food-service manager on staff. The fee goes into effect May 1, and is the result of a law the state Legislature passed last year. Lawmakers created it to help cover the cost to enforce the new requirement for services that don’t comply with the law. The department estimated it will collect an additional $2,000 a year from the fine.

  • Full restaurant inspections, which include two a year, will rise by $30 beginning Jan. 1, when the fee will go up from $420 to $450. The department reports it makes more than 1,500 inspections a year. The increase is expected to give the health department $45,330 in new revenue for 2012.

Administrative Health Officer Cathy Raevsky said her department’s charge for inspecting restaurants is below the fees that are charged by Ottawa and Muskegon counties, which she said were $575 and $585, respectively. “We are on par with Ottawa and Muskegon counties,” she said.

  • Fees for inspecting mobile and seasonal food services will both rise by $15 to $225 next January. Those increases are expected to bring another $6,100 into the department’s budget in 2012 from the 412 inspections the department will likely make next year.

  • Inspection fees will go up for adult and child care facilities Oct. 1. A full inspection will rise by $96 to $226, and the health department said it will make 56 of those beginning May 1. Anstey said this fee hasn’t been raised in 13 years, and the increase represents a 4 percent annual hike over that period. The agency expects an additional $5,376 to come from the new charge.

A partial inspection for the same facilities will cost $150, up from $100. It’s the first increase for this service in nine years; the new charge also represents a 4 percent annual rise over that timeframe. The department stands to gain $11,100 in new revenue from this change. The cost of a plan review for these facilities will go up from $135 to $200, the first increase in a decade. The health department expects to only perform five reviews annually, so the higher fee will add only $335 to its revenue ledger.

Anstey admitted that some of the increases may appear to be large hikes. But he added that the raises aren’t gigantic jumps when the higher fees are annualized over the time charges haven’t gone up.

“The fees reflect the department’s costs,” he said. Raevsky said she hasn’t heard of any negative comments regarding the increases and new charges.

When asked if he was expecting less revenue from the state for the department’s next fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, Anstey said he didn’t know. He reiterated that the increases would only cover the costs to provide the services. But he added that the department didn’t want to put any further financial strain on the county’s general operating fund, which is expecting a revenue-sharing cut of at least $4 million if lawmakers approve Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget.

Commissioners allocated $7 million from the general fund last fall to the health department’s current $24.5 million fiscal-year budget.

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