Miami-Dade’s decade-long effort to open its $14 million grants budget to all charities failed once again on Tuesday, with county commissioners unwilling to embrace a selection process that left many existing recipients without subsidies.
“The results, I cannot live with,” Commissioner Bruno Barreiro said before asking the board to reject funding recommendations from a year-long scoring process involving about 150 screeners. “I appreciate all the hard work. We’ve gone through this twice. Right now this process is not delivering the results that we expected.”
The 13-member commission was so clearly inclined to reject the grant recommendations — generated using a process requested by the board two years ago — that chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo persuaded the chambers crowded with existing recipients not to speak since they already were assured a win.
With two members absent, the board approved Barreiro’s motion 7 to 4 to scrap the recommended awards and instead simply extend all current grant payments through the end of the budget year in October.
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The vote preserved one of the most insulated corners of the county’s $7 billion budget, since commissioners consistently opt to renew awards for existing grant recipients rather than unleash the backlash that comes from picking winners and losers in a funding contest.
And while commissioners have inserted line-item funding to support nonprofits in various budgets, Miami-Dade has not awarded charity grants to new applicants in more than a decade. Miami-Dade’s last successful competitive bid process for charities — known in the budget as community-based organizations — was 13 years ago.
Under pressure from nonprofits eager to compete for the dollars, the commission has agreed over the years to open up the money to all charities. But twice in the last 13 years, the process fizzled amid second thoughts from the commission. Tuesday’s vote marked the third time.
‘Just kidding.’ That’s what we’re telling the community.
Commissioner Barbara Jordan
In 2014, commissioners voted to have Mayor Carlos Gimenez develop the latest competitive process for the charity dollars. The following year, they took the first step to protect current recipients by exempting Farm Share from the pending competition. The charity provides free food to low-income residents, and elected officials often preside over the giveaways to constituents and potential voters.
In early 2016, the commission approved the scoring criteria and solicitation language for how the dollars would get allocated. That led to a year-long grants competition, with pre-bid conferences, and a 120-page request for proposals requiring applicants to submit detailed information on budgets, governance, programming and the people who would be helped by the money.
“Nobody could apply for county grants until this year, and we applied,” Carla Neufeld, treasurer of the Key Clubhouse rehab center for people with mental illness, told commissioners. The charity doesn’t receive money from the grant program, but was recommended for $70,000 in aid through the selection process.
“We did what we were supposed to do,” she said. “You asked for the process.”
Key Clubhouse was one 250 charities that submitted applications, and 70 were recommended for awards. With Tuesday’s vote, the roughly 200 existing recipients will continue receiving their tax-funded money — including the 100 who didn’t apply for a grant during the competitive process. Of the 100 that did apply, about 50 were recommended for funding.
Voting against Barreiro’s resolution to reject the proposed grant awards were Audrey Edmonson, Daniella Levine Cava, Sally Heyman and Barbara Jordan. Two commissioners, Joe Martinez and Dennis Moss, left the meeting after recusing themselves from the vote for their roles in two charities up for funding.
A former top county administrator, Jordan ridiculed the commission for rejecting a grant process it created. “These community-based organizations deserve better from us,” she said. “ ‘Just kidding.’ That’s what we’re telling the community.”
We did what we were supposed to do. You asked for the process.
Carla Neufeld, treasurer of the Key Clubhouse rehab center
Barreiro’s motion also scrapped $137,000 the Gimenez administration planned to use for a year-long program with the United Way to coach charities on grant writing, governance and other improvements designed to help them pursue funds elsewhere. The county’s budget office said without the money, it may need to cancel a kick-off event planned for next week.
The debate highlighted the tiny sliver of funding that charity grants occupy in the county’s yearly spending plan. The grants allocation is down from a high of about $40 million during the final months of the housing boom, Moon said. “Fourteen million dollars out of $7 billion?” Commissioner Jean Monestime said. “That’s not fair.”
While the plan to award new grant money by June 1 died with Barreiro’s resolution, the administration’s recommendation may not be entirely retired. Barreiro’s motion called for Bovo’s eight-member policy council to review the next steps on the charity-grant program — suggesting a competitive process might get launched yet again on its way to another showdown vote before the full board.
Budget chief Jennifer Moon said another solicitation would take 10 months and require an entirely new framework from the commission. Now in her 14th year running the budget office, Moon said the charity-grant has been her most wrenching task.
“The only thing that’s ever made me cry as a professional is the CBO process,” Moon told commissioners. “You have way more needs than you have the money that’s available. And you have amazing organizations that do things every single day that we as government couldn’t possibly do.”