Some nonprofits see money rise, fall, vanish


Erlaine Geathers, a 38-year-old Gainesville resident, right, sells a basket of zucchini at the Alachua County Farmers' Market in Gainesville on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. A lack of funding from CAPP this year is forcing the Florida Organic Growers to search elsewhere for the money to continue its EBT program.

Brett Le Blanc / Correspondent
Published: Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 7:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 7:02 p.m.

Alachua County is poised to cut funding for its Community Agency Partnership Program for the second fiscal year in a row, leaving some nonprofits with lower awards than before while others get more money and a couple agencies receive none at all.

Through CAPP the county provides funding to nonprofits that work to reduce poverty by providing services that assist residents in priority areas such as health care and children's education.

The County Commission is expected to finalize its fiscal year 2014 budget on Tuesday. It has tentatively allocated $962,745 for CAPP, which is a drop of about $20,000 compared with the current fiscal year.

The program already suffered a 15 percent cut from about $1.16 million in funding for fiscal year 2012 to $983,000 in fiscal year 2013.

Terry Fleming, chair of the CAPP advisory board, said he and his fellow board members would love to have more funding to support more programs. However, he said he understands the political realities that the County Commission faces.

"It's always difficult to see essential services not paid for," he said. "But I have to recognize that the county government is under tremendous pressure to cut costs, and unfortunately this is one of the areas that they felt they could cut costs (in) this year."

CAPP's tentative budget for fiscal year 2014 is still higher than it was in 2005 and 2006, when its budget was in the $800,000 range, CAPP manager Lee Roberts said.

All the nonprofits that have been tentatively awarded funding for the upcoming fiscal year received support from CAPP for the current fiscal year as well, according to Roberts.

"We generally have a steady base of programs," he said.

While some agencies are set to receive more money for their programs in the next fiscal year than they did this time around, others can expect an equal or lesser award.

Planned Parenthood of North Florida is expected to receive $23,515 more for fiscal year 2014 than it got this fiscal year — the biggest year-over-year increase among the agencies recommended for CAPP funding. The county plans to give Planned Parenthood $42,015 to fund its teen clinic, which Roberts said provides a unique service.

Giving Planned Parenthood more money this time around will allow it to provide more services and do more outreach, he said.

ElderCare of Alachua County's Meals on Wheels program for the elderly can expect a $4,585 increase, which Roberts said should help reduce the agency's waiting list.

Florida Organic Growers and Girls Place, however, received CAPP support in the present fiscal year and applied for next year's round of funding but were denied, Roberts said.

Advisory board member Fleming said neither agency received the minimum score needed to be eligible for funding. Advisory board members score organizations based on certain criteria and must take the County Commission's priorities into account.

The advisory board usually keeps some of the same members but also gets new ones each year, and everyone brings their own personal experiences and priorities to the table, he said. The commission's top priorities can also change from year to year, as does the amount of available funding.

These factors can help account for why a program might be deemed eligible for CAPP support one year but not the next, Fleming said.

Florida Organic Growers reapplied for funding for its Gainesville Initiative for Tasty Gardens, or GIFT Gardens, program, which builds raised-bed vegetable gardens for low-income families and institutions that support them.

"It really empowers people to have some further control over their own life," Florida Organic Growers Executive Director Marty Mesh said. "I think it's a pretty effective program at getting people fresh, healthy food."

It received $5,500 in funding this fiscal year but was denied funding for the next, according to county records. It requested $29,694 for fiscal year 2014.

Florida Organic Growers has some private donations that will help keep the GIFT Gardens program running for a little while, but it needs to find more money to support it, Mesh said. The program already has a waiting list of people who want gardens.

The organization was also denied funding for its Farmers Market Program, which has received CAPP money in the past but has been funded by grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the past two years, he said.

The agency requested $28,820 from CAPP for the program, which allows people with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — formerly known as food stamps — to swipe their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards in exchange for tokens at two local farmers markets.

This gives them the opportunity to buy fresh vegetables and other food from area farmers that otherwise wouldn't be able to accept their SNAP benefits because they can't run residents' EBT cards.

The grant for Florida Organic Growers' SNAP program ends on Sept. 30, although the organization has applied for an extension that could buy it a few more months while it tries to find a new source of funding that will allow it to keep the program running, Mesh said.

"We're dedicated to the projects continuing, and we hope that we'll be able to obtain some alternative funding sources so they don't just disappear," he said. "That being said, we're in a challenging situation."

Brent Bush, who also goes by Manotea, has used Florida Organic Growers' SNAP program for the last couple of years. Without it, he would have a hard time finding a way to get fresh local produce using his federal benefits. This program, he said, helps SNAP users eat healthier while also supporting the area economy.

"I think it really helps out people to get nutritious, fresh vegetables," he said. "Where else can you really do that? And it helps the local farmers, too."

The county, Bush said, should support this program because it keeps money within its borders by making it easier for people to buy local. "We want to keep the money here," he said.

Mesh plans to review the CAPP process to see how Florida Organic Growers can improve its application for the next round of funding as well as to determine if there are problems with the process itself that could account for why its programs were denied.

"It seems to me that something went wrong, and my hope is to better understand what went wrong and to be able (to) then hopefully find a solution," he said.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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