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Moran offers changes to his social-service funding overhaul

Written by on Thursday, October 12, 2023

The commissioner cut Sarasota County funding for childcare. Following an outcry, he considers adjustments.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: Oct. 11, 2023

Host: Commissioner Mike Moran single-handedly overhauled the way Sarasota County funds non-profits that provide key social services. Early this month, the commission’s selections for 2024 funding following the Moran overhaul triggered an outcry. Yesterday, Moran seemed to respond to the outcry, stating his willingness to entertain limited changes to his changes. Here’s our report.

Johannes Werner: The overhaul of the way Sarasota County funds non-profits that provide key social services continues to be a moving target, which means uncertainty for both providers and hundreds of families in the county that depend on those services.

A month ago, the Sarasota County Commission de-funded all childcare programs. Commissioner Mike Moran, the chief architect of the overhaul, argued that childcare does not fit the six categories he created earlier this year to define tax funding eligibility for programs. The Moran categories included food, health, substance abuse, jail diversion, safety, and shelter, but not childcare.

At the following meeting early this month, Fiona McFarland, a Republican state representative, pleaded with Sarasota County Commissioners to include childcare in their funding categories.

In the course of that meeting, the commissioners reinstated some, but not all funding for childcare.

During the meeting yesterday, Moran suggested that he may be willing to add categories – including childcare.

Mike Moran: So what will come about in the next funding cycle is: yes or no, are we adding some of those categories? The bottom line is, this board has pure authority to do so. I’m just coming back around and make sure that, if we are going to do that, we should probably keep the fundamental structure that we took a lot of time and energy to put in place. If there’s going to be an eligible category added, we need to add it.

JW: However, he did not make a motion, meaning the county commission will probably not discuss this until 2025 funding of social services is on the table.

Defunded, then re-funded: Daycare programs by the Boys & Girls Club.

During the meeting Tuesday, Moran also challenged the assertion by the Early Learning Coalition, which provides childcare, that a loss of county funding would trigger a loss of state and federal matches. He said he asked the head of the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County, who told him that was not the case. Moran suggested that the non-profits could replace county funding with privately raised funds.

MM: So hopefully we’re clearing that up today, that you do not need a county match for Early Learning Coalition funds. So, if there is a difference of opinion on this, we need to air it out before the next funding process related to this. I have no ask, Mr. Chair, today on that. It’s just I want clarification, if anybody feels any differently than that.

JW: WSLR News did not get a response from Rep. McFarland. Janet Kahn, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition, heard about Moran’s assertion for the first time when asked by WSLR. In an email, she explained that state rules require a local funder to provide their matching funds. While a foundation or employer could be that local funder, three-fourths of Early Learning Coalition chapters in Florida receive government funds as their local match. The Sarasota ELC, which was granted $510,000 by Sarasota County, does not “receive private, foundation or other philanthropic funds anywhere near that amount”, she said, adding they would have had to re-file an application for state matching funds if they had lost Sarasota County funding.

“So, bottom line is that, yes, without the county funds that we have received without question for over 20 years, we would lose the currently allocated state match,” Kahn said.

In the meantime, parents depending on childcare will remain in limbo until the county commission decides.

Reporting for WSLR News, this was Johannes Werner.

Note: The Early Learning Coalition responded to questions from WSLR after deadline for our radio report. We added their information to this article.


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