We should thank Broward County Commissioners, who, until now, have refrained from significant budget cuts to human services. This month, our commissioners must again make a choice. Will they choose to keep Broward County’s social safety net whole? Or, will they cut holes big enough for 20,000 families, already reeling from the poor economy and foreclosures, to fall through?

We have the honor of being Board chairs of two respected Broward community-based organizations, Hispanic Unity of Florida and the Urban League of Broward County. We know from our clients the toll the economic downturn and the housing crisis has had on families and our community at large.


Broward ranks among the hardest hit communities in the country not only in foreclosures but also in jobs lost to the Great Recession.  Food stamp applications are growing by 2,500 monthly. And, South Florida’s recovery will take far longer than in other recessions or compared to other communities. 
 
EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE

County staff is proposing a reduction of $575,000 in the Family Success Centers which provides families with crisis and emergency assistance. (The cuts to Hispanic Unity and Urban League total $755,000 but county staff proposes keeping, and increasing, the funding to their own Family Success Centers by $200,000.)

If our commissioners accept the proposed cuts, services that now keep families in their homes, help them keep their electricity turned on, help them find a job or deal with other life crisis will be deeply affected.

We urge our commissioners to keep whole the funding for the Family Success Centers.

As business leaders, we believe we have a better proposal for the county commissioners: Take a serious look at partnering more with community-based organizations to deliver Case Management services. Do what you do well: Direct dollars where most needed, fund and monitor programs and allow organizations such as Hispanic Unity and the Urban League do what they do best – deliver human services, leverage funding through private dollars which supplement public funds and engage in social innovation. 
 
ECONOMIC MILESTONES

Soon, both of these organizations will be adopting a national research-based model – already implemented in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties – which builds on the Family Success Centers’ emergency services.  Research concludes that individuals assisted through this model are five times more likely to achieve meaningful long-term economic milestones such as securing a good job, getting out of debt, returning to school or purchasing a home  – all of which lead to greater financial stability.

For more than 10 years, Hispanic Unity and the Urban League have been Family Success Center Affiliates and served 40,500 clients in the past 45 months.

Both organizations go beyond the Family Success Center requirements. In addition to emergency assistance, the agencies provide wrap-around services to their clients, including financial literacy, employment services and foreclosure prevention, to name a few. Last year, the two organizations leveraged an additional $379,000 in funds. Next year, both organizations are willing once again to match 75 percent-100 percent of every dollar awarded to them by the county to implement the national model called Center for Working Families.  A significant portion of these dollars has already been pledged or secured.

DELIVERY SYSTEMS

Why would the Commissioners reduce services provided by two organizations that represent the most efficient service delivery systems that the Family Success Centers have and which soon will have a stronger service delivery model than the county – as well as match dollars awarded to them?

We urge the commissioners to make the fiscally responsible business – and community – decision. They should keep the Family Success Centers intact and continue to contract the delivery of Case Management services. And, they should explore additional ways of partnering with community-based organizations such as Hispanic Unity and the Urban League, social entrepreneurs that can innovate, leverage funds and work with the commissioners to keep Broward’s safety net strong.

Please, let your voices be heard on the proposed Broward safety net cuts. The amount of $575,000 will affect 20,000 families who will not receive critical assistance. It will also mean $755,000 in cuts to Hispanic Unity and the Urban League of Broward County. For more information, log on to www.browardsafetynet.org.

Nydia Menendez chairs the Board of Hispanic Unity of Florida and Dennis D. Smith chairs the board of the Urban League of Broward County.