One area of concern is food banks that distribute canned goods to the needy, said Norman Dean, executive director of the Center for Y2K and Society, a Washington-based nonprofit formed six months ago with grants from a dozen foundations.
'Many food banks are dependent on donations,' said Dean. 'Will concern over Y2K cause people to keep food on shelves rather than donate canned goods during annual food drives in the fall?'
Dean's group suggests that organizations hold their collection drives earlier in the fall so that they still have time to pursue other sources if necessary.
The group has established a grant program so that community organizations can apply for funding to assess a particular situation, learning lessons that might be of value to other communities.
The center will award a first round of $10,000 to $25,000 grants this month and plans to accept more applications for July. Smaller nonprofit organizations in rural and inner-city areas usually do not have the resources of larger and medium-sized groups to begin to anticipate possible Y2K problems, said Margaret Anderson, the center's policy director.
One proposal the center is considering would evaluate some of the smaller health clinics in Washington, D.C., to determine what Y2K-related problems could hurt them. 'What happens if Medicaid in the District of Columbia is not available or paid reliably?' asked Anderson. 'What if there is more pressure from stockpiling of pharmaceuticals, what happens to the donation programs?'
Anderson said there is particular worry over the Medicaid program, which provides insurance coverage for many poor children and disabled people and is distributed with less federal government oversight than the better-known Medicare program.
Because Medicaid is typically disbursed by the states, and sometimes by local governments, there is less certainty that payments will be easily doled out in the early part of next year. If states have computer problems with their Medicaid systems, this could not only affect individual patients, but also nursing homes and other institutions that rely heavily on the money.
The center is working on a report card to help organizations like nursing homes evaluate their contingency plans to see if they are compatible with other groups. The report card, which could be used by either local governments or community groups, will include about 10 questions to help assess how ready a community is to effectively deal with problems if computer systems fail next year, including health care, infrastructure and public safety.
The report card will be available on the center's web site, www.y2kcenter.org, and will also be distributed by the group through various nonprofits and events, said Anderson.
Contacts: Margaret Anderson, director of policy, Center for Y2K and Society, Washington, D.C., 202-775-3267. Norman Dean, executive director, Center for Y2K and Society, Washington, D.C., 202-775-3182.
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