Vigilance needed to protect Sarasota-Manatee nonprofits and public services
Historic Sarasota courthouse located in District 1.

Vigilance needed to protect Sarasota-Manatee nonprofits and public services

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The homeless, intellectually disabled, children and families were the targets of recent reversed budget cuts that had been proposed by the Sarasota County Commission. In a move that would have had serious blowback, especially for the most disenfranchised in Sarasota County including after-school childcare, homelessness alleviation, educational programs and mental health services, might have had county funding reduced or eliminated completely. 

Boys and Girls Club, the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness and the Early Learning Coalition (ELC) of Sarasota County were the programs with the biggest proposed cuts to their budgets in the initial plan for county aid allotments for nonprofits. The Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County would have lost $510,000 of its county funding, and the ELC would have been forced to reduce its financial support for low-income families’ educational expenses. 

Sarasota County District 1 Commissioner Mike Moran and the four other county commissioners have approved a change to the county’s Behavioral Health and Health and Human Service budget. However, a program that didn’t have its budget cut before the reversal drew criticism from local politicians and nonprofit leaders over the potential for conflicts of interest. The Sarasota Teen Court program, which seeks to provide second chances and developmental programs for at-risk youth, has seen more than $200,000 in county funding allotted from the behavioral health fund for 2024. While funding less punitive and socially conscious justice programs for at-risk youth is a good thing for Sarasota County, the Herald-Tribune reported that there was a concern because Moran’s wife, Lori Moran, is employed as the chief operations officer at Teen Court.

After-school childcare and educational programs escaped the financial butchery originally posed by Moran, though they are not safe from future attacks on their funding and efficiency. The Catalyst interviewed thesis student Annie Dong, who works as a teen fine arts specialist at the Boys and Girls Club, to provide more insight into the importance of these programs receiving continued funding from Sarasota County.

“County funding is one of many external sources for funding. . . they seek more programs like the Boys and Girls Club to do the best and give back to the children and adolescents,” Dong said.

“The county funding is also one of the most important [sources of support] because they provide funding for field trips, funding for us to be able to feed the kids, and where they can go outside and play sports. There’s also bills to pay for the building as well.”

If the budget cuts went into effect, “I would have to lessen down on my lesson plans and not be able to afford nicer art materials. . . I wouldn’t be able to give my lesson plans the best effect and impact that the teens need,” Dong explained. 

On the importance of the program itself, “The parents and families have jobs and there is just no way they can balance out having their full attention on the kids while also working,” she said.

Boys and Girls Club offers more than just somewhere to drop off kids. The environment is conducive to personal development, something the budget cuts would have harmed. On what the program provides for families, Dong stated, “Not just any care like a babysitter, what they want is their child to be in a safe atmosphere and still be able to learn and enjoy their time instead of just being home alone.” 

While Sarasota County’s nonprofits were, for the most part, spared, Manatee County nonprofits are having their funding targeted. Any nonprofit that is “affiliated” with Planned Parenthood will not be able to receive any county funding. The move by the Manatee County Commission has two glaring issues. There is no Planned Parenthood in Manatee County, and while abortion is usually targeted by critics, Planned Parenthood provides vital breast cancer screening and a range of reproductive health services. 

In the current political climate it appears that services needed by the most disenfranchised are at risk. While Sarasota nonprofits have security for their funding for now, this is an issue that could very easily come up again. While the vigilance and efficiency of local nonprofits avoided disaster this time, there are concerns about the future of key social programs in Florida.

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