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Pinellas County changing way it awards grants to nonprofits

Published Aug. 2, 2013

Pinellas County will again dole out roughly $550,000 to social service agencies next year, but plans to change how it prioritizes which organizations get help.

Every year, the county sets aside money to give to groups that help the homeless and feed the elderly. But that amount, divided among 15 organizations last year, usually comes in grants that are about $30,000, often less than 1 percent of the organizations' budgets.

"We need to distribute these resources so we have the greatest impact," said Gwendolyn Warren, director of the county's Health and Human Services Department. "And it might not be doling out $30,000 awards."

Commissioners recently agreed to give Warren and her staff more control over which groups receive funding, which currently goes to organizations such as the Salvation Army of St. Petersburg and Religious Community Services. When considering which groups to fund next year, Warren said she might look at organizations that provide housing for homeless families, which is in short supply in Pinellas, and deliver meals to low-income seniors.

That could mean more money for groups focusing on these issues and less for others.

Commissioner Ken Welch said that although the amount is about half of what Pinellas was once able to spend on local charities, he was pleased the board agreed to fund it.

"Those dollars ought to be there," he said. "We know the need outweighs the available resources."

Some of the groups that receive county support have been badly hurt by the federal sequestration, including the Pinellas Meals on Wheels program, which delivers meals to homebound seniors. It lost nearly $200,000 to the cuts.

In letters to individual commissioners, Debra Shade, the president of the Neighborly Care Network, which oversees the program, said more than 600 people are on the wait list for Meals on Wheels and Senior Dining, which serves meals to seniors at community centers and churches around the county.

"Along with our seniors, I am counting on your support to help us get the funding that we need in order to continue these programs," Shade wrote.