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Unspent Riot Counseling Funds

August 22, 1993

Your Aug. 13 article and Aug. 16 editorial about Project Rebound, the crisis counseling program administered by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, were based on profound misunderstandings about the program and its administration.

The department takes strong exception to the statement that "six months after the spring, 1992, riots, the county was still struggling to organize the counseling program." Within the six-month immediate services grant period, 103,714 people had been served. The magnitude of these services rendered hardly reflects a history of "bureaucratic bungling."

The complexities of the emotions people were experiencing and the mistrust between ethnic groups made it essential to match bilingual/bicultural professionals with the communities to be served. Special skills were required to ensure that interventions would not heighten already tense situations. Unfortunately, it was not easy to quickly locate trained personnel for these tasks.

Project Rebound, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, requires documentation of services before funds can be disbursed. Services must conform to established FEMA guidelines, and Project Rebound has complied with these guidelines, ensuring appropriate expenditures. It is ironic that we are being taken to task for prudent fiscal management!

The nine-month grant was a refinement of the original program, with a separate structure and program plan. By Aug. 4, 1993, project goals had been exceeded for the elderly, met for adults, and approximately two-thirds met for children and youth. The extension period will allow us to continue services for children and youth, where prevention and intervention can still make a difference.

All funds will be spent by Nov. 4. We are proud of the fact that Project Rebound and its contracted agencies have been able to assist over 300,000 lives by services made possible through this grant.

ARETA CROWELL, Director of Mental Health, County of Los Angeles

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A number of inaccuracies regarding the Los Angeles Unified School District's use of FEMA grant funds appeared in your article. LAUSD submitted reimbursement claims for $354,000 in FEMA-approved activities--not $200,000 as your article stated. The FEMA grant was not authorized or intended for student counseling. The money was spent primarily for substitute teachers, clerical and custodial staff in order to release regular staff personnel for debriefing and crisis intervention training. The effort to provide this service was not "dropped." During the initial grant period more than 1,000 school district personnel from over 150 schools in the area defined by FEMA were served. In addition, I would not have stated that "teachers . . . were too shaken to be of much help to students," because that was not my sentiment.

The LAUSD did make a video (for $8,500--not $14,000 as you reported). But the objective was never intended to be "race relations." Its purpose and its value were as a first-of-its-kind documentary training tool on a school district's efforts to provide crisis intervention counseling for children during and immediately after a major episode of civil unrest.

The $42,000 which the article described as my salary for six months actually was a budget item of $38,000, which covered the district's cost for my salary, the salary of a clerical assistant and health benefits for both of us.

Your readers should know that the FEMA grant activities formed only a minor part of LAUSD's response. Teachers, administrators, clerical and custodial staff and support services personnel--by the thousands--gave more than their usual work time to provide care, counseling, support, clothes, food and transportation to the children in our schools and their families during that traumatic period last year. They did this for free, out of their concern and compassion for the young people of Los Angeles.

MARLEEN WONG, Acting Director, LAUSD Mental Health Services

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In response to your editorial:

If organizations are to be given huge sums of money, accountability must be in place so that the misuse of funds will not occur. Counselors attempting to address entirely new problems and conditions are not going to treat clients unless they have the proper training and background. To do so would be unethical.

As a Project Rebound worker, I experienced the frustration of being unable to move to quicker and more comprehensive solutions, but I feel our project did the best we could with the resources and knowledge available to us. Slow-moving services may not be the most adequate solution to the enormous problems facing Los Angeles, but spending without thought or plan and counseling without proper skills do not appeal to me as a better solution.

Instead of looking to the government to provide all the answers, we as community members need to take it upon ourselves to effect an immediate change in our small part of the community.

SUSAN SHIMAZU, Gardena

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