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Pinellas funding cuts would hit Meals on Wheels, other nonprofits

Each day, the Meals on Wheels program hands out 1,000 dinners to homebound seniors.

But that help would scale back under Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala's proposed budget for next year.

Pinellas would eliminate all social action funding, which helps pay for the meal program and other nutrition services. The $360,000 cut will be part of the 2011-12 budget to be released when the Pinellas County Commission meets Tuesday.

Without the program, Neighborly Care Network, the nonprofit that runs Meals on Wheels, faces a $49,000 reduction in its food program, and a $10,000 loss for pharmacy services.

County money is important because each dollar allows the nonprofit to get up to $9 more in federal money for food services, officials said. The county's contribution leads to $441,000.

"Every dime is spent. It's not as if we can absorb the cuts," Debra Shade, president of Neighborly Care Network, said Friday.

The organization, which has a $3.1 million budget for food programs, also recently found out it will lose $45,000 in federal money. It also expects to lose $20,000 from St. Petersburg, Shade said.

But the county faces its fourth straight year of reductions, too.

Pinellas no longer has the staffing to manage the 17 contracts that go along with annual grants, officials said. The county already reduced the overall program from $720,000 in funding two years ago. It will keep a $200,000 program for homelessness.

"Not to say that it's not important, but it's not a lot of money for any one agency. And it takes a lot of time and administration," said Cliff Smith, deputy director of health and human services.

Neighborly Care Network received the most money. Grants started at $10,000, such as for the Lighthouse of Pinellas to help blind and deaf people.

Religious Community Services received $42,000 for its food bank that helps 6,000 people a month.

"RCS understands the county problems that are happening financially. But if we don't have that funding, it does mean a reduction in the capacity of our services," said Lisa Matzner, director of development.

The programs reduce the chances that people, many of whom are working poor, will need more expensive taxpayer support for health care and other services, nonprofit officials said.

The elimination of social action funding makes up about 10 percent of the $3.3 million in reductions that LaSala has to make in departments he runs.

But the reduction coincides with $8 million in savings from lower pension costs after changes made by the Legislature.

Last month, the County Commission decided to set aside that money in case of another shortfall, instead of easing reductions this year.

County Commissioner Neil Brickfield lauded Meals on Wheels, saying he's against the grants elimination. Brickfield said changes last year improved how the grant funding was doled out.

Without the money, he agreed the county could face paying higher costs for programs such as Medicaid.

"We're all going to be old one day, and we're going to want to be treated with respect," Brickfield said.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/DeCampTimes

Pinellas funding cuts would hit Meals on Wheels, other nonprofits 07/10/11 [Last modified: Sunday, July 10, 2011 11:05pm]
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