ST. LUCIE COUNTY— Thousands of homebound seniors here depend on hot meals delivered to their doors, thanks to the Council on Aging of St. Lucie.
The Meals on Wheels program and other services provided by the 49-year-old nonprofit, however, may no longer exist because the county rejected the council’s roughly $196,000 request.
And while other nonprofits also were denied funding, this is the first time in at least 25 years that St. Lucie is not financially backing the Council on Aging, according to the county Office of Management and Budget.
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“It was a major shock,” Council on Aging CEO Darrell Drummond told TCPalm. “We are now forced to try to find those dollars somewhere else in the 11th hour.”
The Council on Aging receives state money, and in addition to Meals on Wheels — which last year provided 121,783 meals to seniors in St. Lucie County, according to Drummond — other council programs also have relied on county funding such as:
- National Family Caregiver Support Program
- Support services
- Congregate meals
- Community Care for the Elderly ($94,108 requested)
Additionally, the council likely has saved the county thousands of dollars by providing services to Medicaid recipients who otherwise may be in nursing homes, Drummond said.
For example, the county paid $4.7 million to the Florida Department of Revenue this fiscal year for Medicaid recipients, records show.
The county’s nonprofit grant program, which distributes money based on recommendations from United Way of St. Lucie and Okeechobee, was highly competitive this year, county officials said.
For example, more than 40 nonprofits applied with a total ask of nearly $1.7 million. But the county budgeted only about $648,000, enough for just 16 organizations.
The county also rejected requests from organizations such as Trespansure Cospanst Food Bspannk, Tykes & Teens and the Lindsspany School of the Arts.
The County Commission’s unanimous denial of Council on Aging funding was based on United Way’s recommendation, Chairwoman Cathy Townsend told TCPalm.
The United Way citizen panel did recommend funding for the council’s congregate meals and Community Care for Elderly programs, yet other factors — such as a score sheet and in-person discussions — played into the final recommendation, according to United Way of St. Lucie and Okeechobee President Jessica Parrish.
“They submitted five programs and the scoring for the five programs ranged between 62 and 68 out of 100,” Parrish told TCPalm. “… A score at that level doesn’t typically get recommended for funding.”
County Commissioner Linda Bartz said it was sad to see organizations denied money, but emphasized the county’s limited budget for nonprofits.
Commissioners also cited a potential duplication of services for their refusal to allocate more money.
Townsend was a strong proponent of even further tightening of nonprofit funding.
“I personally don’t feel that we should fund nonprofits. I think every dollar we give should be a match,” she said at the Dec. 13 meeting. ” … I don’t think we should take taxpayers money and just give it to nonprofits.”
Drummond plans to ask Port St. Lucie and Fort Pierce for money the county didn’t provide, he said.
Fort Pierce Mayor Linda Hudson called the county’s decision surprising.
“Over the years as mayor, I’ve met with constituents who are seniors and who depend on those services and who would never, ever imagine that they could go away,” Hudson told TCPalm. “It’s just stunning that the county did this.”
Hudson sees the funding as essential and wants to help, but is unsure where the money would come from, she said.
Fort Pierce, like all other local governments, already has approved its 2022-2033 budget, and awarded grants to local nonprofits, according to Hudson. Organizations that received that federal money through the city typically get only up to $10,000 and the council needs about $196,000.
Port St. Lucie has a long-standing policy not to fund nonprofits, Mayor Shannon Martin said in a text.
“By not entertaining these funding requests, all nonprofits are treated equally and politics is taken out of the equation,” spokesperson Sarah Prohaska said.
Looking ahead, the County Commission may reevaluate its process for funding nonprofits, a suggestion made by former County Administrator Howard Tipton.
“There are going to be great charities that we are just not going to be able to fund, primarily because they don’t align with the direction for public safety and health that (the commission ) has,” Tipton said Dec. 13.