For years, roughly 200 Miami-Dade charities didn’t have to compete for county grants. Instead, existing funding was extended every 12 months to avoid the politically painful process of opening up the money to new competitors.
That insular enclave of the county budget could evaporate Tuesday if commissioners approve a plan to award about $14 million worth of charity grants to a mix of existing recipients and dozens of new ones.
The reallocation of the money, culled mainly from property taxes, presents the 13-member board with the uncomfortable task of endorsing winners and losers among some of the most sympathetic entities in the county — youth clubs in Overtown, domestic-violence shelters in South Dade, providers of meals for the elderly in North Miami.
“It’s difficult,” said commission chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo. “A lot of us have been feeling the heat.”
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It’s difficult. A lot of us have been feeling the heat.
Commission Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo
Released last week, the proposal from the administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez faces its first and final vote Tuesday before the 13-member board.
Roughly 70 nonprofits are up for three-year funding agreements from Miami-Dade under the proposal, the result of the first competitive selection process the county has run for the grants in 13 years, budget director Jennifer Moon said. That’s down from 200 in the existing grant roster, with higher amounts proposed for fewer charities after about half of the recipients opted not to enter this year’s competitive process. New recipients would include the Lotus House homeless shelter for women ($138,000) and Casa Valentina ($263,000), which helps children aging out of foster programs.
Existing grant recipients facing funding cuts — or total losses — are pressing to block the decisions by the selection committees and preserve their county dollars. That could bring a marathon of pleas during the public-comments segment of the commission meeting — as well as a spotlight on the fiscal priority Miami-Dade puts on charity allocations now that a dollar awarded means a dollar denied, too.
“It’s a shame,” said Commissioner Joe Martinez. “What are we turning into? In order to have the appearance of not raising taxes, we’re cutting out some of the most vulnerable people.”
Martinez is one of two commissioners expected to recuse themselves from Tuesday’s closely watched vote. He sits on the board of the Epilepsy Foundation, set to receive $82,000 under the grant recommendations. The other, Commissioner Dennis Moss, runs the Perrine Optimist Club, set to lose $165,000.
In the early years of the charity program, Miami-Dade had roughly $40 million to spend annually. But the housing crisis and a 2011 property-tax cut caused Miami-Dade to reduce funds most years rather than invite new bidders.
The process commissioners approved last year set up 18 review panels with 150 members to consider about 250 grant requests totaling $84 million. For every dollar requested, Miami-Dade had 17 cents to give.
Helene Good, director of the Advocacy Network on Disabilities, said she’s planning to cut one of the agency’s two social workers if commissioners approve a 35 percent cut in the charity’s $225,000 yearly grant. The nonprofit helps about 600 mostly low-income families with children who are developmentally disabled — including adult children living at home and needing full-time care.
There isn’t any more money available in the general fund right now.
Budget chief Jennifer Moon
Good described one woman with a 25-year-old daughter who grew too aggressive for a daytime program and was expelled. “Now Mom isn’t able to go to work because her daughter is at home,” Good said. “Because she couldn’t work, she couldn’t pay her mortgage or her utility bills for the month. We’re trying to help.”
Of the 200 nonprofits receiving county grants, only 100 decided to pursue the money in a competitive process, Moon said. About half of those were rejected.
Commissioner Rebeca Sosa cited the changes as one reason she’s skeptical about reshuffling which charities — defined as “community-based organizations” in the budget — receive Miami-Dade money. “I’m very concerned about some of the CBOs that have been excellent providers for years, but were left out,” Sosa said.
One fix would be to boost charity funding in the county’s $7 billion budget. The charity grants come from the general fund, a $1.8 billion pool of dollars raised largely from property taxes. Moon said that isn’t an option for 2018.
“There isn’t any more money available in the general fund right now,” she said.