After 18 undecided years, can the mayor fix the funding flaws?

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Written by Michael Lewis on September 6, 2022

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Rather than evaluating 125 organizations that fill gaps in the safety net for the needy, Miami-Dade once again took the easy way out and without discussion launched the box on the road, funding each with what it got an additional 8% last year.

It has now been 18 years since the county examined which groups get money for what and whether they are doing the job properly, or whether what they are doing is the best use of taxes.

Over the years, the commissioners themselves have acknowledged that the process was deeply flawed and highly political. The best the commissioners have done is ensure that groups in each of the 13 districts receive a share of the more than $15 million currently involved, and that each commissioner receives additional funds to send to groups not listed. among the 125.

Last week’s committee vote to just keep doing what we’re doing came without normal committee review where decisions could be hashed out or the public heard. It was one of more than 200 votes on the agenda, most of which were not discussed. And that will affect the funding of 125 groups and not the funding of others that may be just as valuable.

The recommendation to decide not to decide came from Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who, as a commissioner and former social services professional, has criticized the current process.

A memo under the mayor’s name said it would outline within six months how the county should seek proposals from groups, called community organizations. This memo should also recommend the types of services to be funded, stipends, and a new grant-making process.

In the meantime, it’s the status quo.

The memo says the county was so busy meeting other needs during covid that it left the old process in place, even though many organizations closed or worked virtually. The county just asked agencies not to lay off workers. This is all understandable – covid has changed the world.

What’s far less defensible is that the county has done nothing in the previous 16 years to streamline its distribution of tax funds among organizations that ostensibly do things for the community that the county cannot but should. fund anyway.

Don’t get me wrong: there is no doubt that most of these groups that receive tax funds each year are doing valuable work, some very well. But it’s abundantly clear that what should be a team of 125 organizations – or however many are needed – is really just a list of groups that have annual contracts with the county but little coordination. They seem designed to primarily serve 13 commission districts rather than nearly 3 million residents.

So is it the county’s responsibility to fund organizations or meet the needs of residents? We hope the mayor will respond when she reports.

Realigning relationships with community organizations has already been attempted. It just didn’t work out, as the mayor’s memo makes clear.

The failure was not necessarily in the plan, but in the adoption by the commissioners. In 2017, a plan by Mayor Carlos Gimenez was defeated by a 7-4 vote as the county also kicked down the street.

There are reasons why the process is difficult. Organizations that don’t receive county funding want it. Organizations that get it but don’t perform well want to keep the money – and many organizations have strong ties to the commission.

Indeed, in the 2017 vote, two commissioners recused themselves because they had ties to fundraising groups – commissioner Dennis Moss was chief executive of the funded Richmond-Perrine Optimist Club (he took careful to point out that he was not paid by the club). It would be hard to find many bands that have no connection to the officials.

The seven largest grants go to Victory for Youth Inc. (Share Your Heart), $540,000; Live Like Bella Childhood Cancer Foundation, $540,000; Farm Share Inc., $497,000; New Hope BODY Inc., $485,000; Kristi House Inc., $451,000; Better Way of Miami Inc., $432,000; and Little Havana Activity and Nutrition Centers in Dade County, $401,000.

There are 12 categories of community service, and some groups receive funding in more than one category: the Cuban American Bar Association’s pro bono project receives $65,000 to fight violence, $35,000 to help immigrants and newcomers, and $43,000 to meet special needs.

Imagine if you had to tell one of these groups or the other 117 groups currently funded that they would be replaced or that funds would have to be reallocated to meet current needs. You can imagine the battles of the commission.

Hitting the can on the road is much less painful. Unfortunately, it is also much less efficient to use taxes properly to meet community needs.

In the 2017 effort to improve the process, then-commissioner Barbara Jordan noted that the county had in the past assigned the task of allocating funds to an outside organization, the Alliance for Human Services, bypassing the policy, but that bothered some commissioners. Since then, she said, the selections were political and she didn’t want to go through that again. Then-commissioner Xavier Suarez added that it was not possible to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.

Now the commissioners have entrusted Mayor Levine Cava with crafting a new process, as Mr. Gimenez did in 2017. His process met a commission circular saw and was chopped. Can Mrs. Levine Cava find a better formula to end the politics among hundreds of competing grassroots organizations and push it through next year?

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