Homeless Fund Tapped for 2000 Fix: Health & Human Services FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Fri, 5 Jun 1998 22:39:17 -0700 (PDT)


http://search.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WAPO/19980605/V000018-060598-idx.html


     HHS TAPS HOMELESS FUND FOR 2000 FIX

     By Laura Meckler - Associated Press Writer - June 5, 1998


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Year 2000 computer glitch, which will eat up
billions of dollars before it is solved, will take a bite out of money
meant for homeless young people.

Hoping to fix major problems in computers that run Medicare, the Department
of Health and Human Services is transferring $7 million from a program
aiding teen runaways and other young people living on the street.

That's nearly half of the $15 million designated this year for the program,
created by the 1994 crime law. Last year, it got $8 million, meaning all of
the extra funding provided for 1998 will be diverted to the computer
problem.

In total, HHS has told Congress it will move $40.5 million from various
programs to reprogram Medicare's computers. That also includes $3.5 million
from community economic development grants, which are used to help
low-income people get jobs and job training. About half the money comes
from across-the-board cuts at the National Institutes of Health.

During difficult deliberations, the department decided to move money from
grants that had not yet been awarded, rather than money that communities
are already counting on, said Michael Kharfen, an HHS spokesman.

The department is allowed to redirect up to 1 percent of its budget to
handle the massive computer problem. It must inform Congress, but it does
not need permission.

Kharfen contends that the transfer from the homeless program won't really
affect the program. The department is now evaluating grant applications for
1998 and had planned to hand out the money in September, just before the
end of the fiscal year.

Instead, HHS will use money from next year's budget to fund this year's
projects. In 1999, he said, they'll do the same thing, using money from the
2000 budget.

The homeless projects funded send outreach workers to the streets to find
homeless young people, offer shelters, health care and counseling.

``We have a long-term commitment to the street outreach program,'' Kharfen
said. ``It's a balance between two critical needs.''

But advocates for the homeless were disturbed by the news.

``It's a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul,'' said Michael Ferrell,
executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless. ``Surely they can
find some other ways to fix the problem aside from taking money from youth
initiatives.''

The computer glitch is causing havoc across the government and private
sector, which is spending billions to reprogram machines that use two
digits to represent a year. This means these systems will see the year 2000
and believe it is 1900. After Jan. 1, 2000, computers that have not been
fixed may generate incorrect data or simply shut down.

Across the federal government, about a third of the 8,000 critical systems
have been fixed. The total cost is estimated at more than $4.7 billion.

But HHS has fixed only 40 percent of its 491 vital systems. And almost
one-fourth of Medicare's external contractors have yet to even assess their
systems.

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