New Miami-Dade Competitive Grant Process Roils Local Nonprofits

By Miami-Dade Transit [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

March 20, 2017; Miami Herald

The perilous competition among community-based nonprofits for scarce public dollars is an old story, one well known to charities across America. But a few fortunate communities had plenty to go around…until now.

The Miami Herald reports that Miami-Dade county commissioners are poised to approve a plan to award about $14 million worth of grants to a mix of existing local nonprofits and dozens of new ones. This reverses a long-standing practice where about 200 charities didn’t have to compete for county grants. Existing funding was extended to them every year to avoid the politically painful process of opening up the process to new recipients.

The new process puts the board in the difficult position of “endorsing winners and losers among some of the most sympathetic entities in the county,” says the Herald article. The funding, which comes primarily from property taxes, supports nonprofits that include youth clubs, domestic-violence shelters, and Meals on Wheels providers.

“It’s difficult,” said commission chairman Esteban Bovo. “A lot of us have been feeling the heat.”

The proposal from Mayor Carlos Gimenez proposes that about 70 nonprofits get three-year funding agreements from Miami-Dade, the result of the first competitive selection process the county has run in 13 years. That’s down from 200 currently and reflects the allocation of larger amounts for fewer charities. Many of the existing grant recipients facing funding cuts or total losses will protest the decisions by the selection committees, pleading their cases during the public comments period of the commission meeting.

Historically, Miami-Dade had about $40 million to spend annually on grants to nonprofits. But the housing crisis and a property tax cut reduced the funding. This past year, 18 review panels with 150 members considered about 250 grant requests totaling $84 million. For every dollar requested, Miami-Dade had 17 cents to give. Of the 200 nonprofits already receiving county grants, only 100 decided to pursue the money in a competitive process, and about half were rejected.

This situation is yet one more example of the degree to which nonprofits need to work through scenarios like this in planning. In this environment, little should be taken for granted.—Larry Kaplan