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After Pledging to End $20,000 Request, Second Harvest Asks Flagler To Double It Instead

| July 1, 2013

Cashing in on needs. (S.S. Department of Agriculture)

Cashing in on needs. (S.S. Department of Agriculture)

A little over two years ago local non-profits teamed up with the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce and Second Harvest North Florida to bring the innovative “Mobile Benefits Program” to Flagler County. The program finds and enrolls people eligible for food stamps who otherwise, for whatever reason, have not enrolled on their own.

The program has two immediate benefits. It puts food on tables of families that need it most. And it channels federal dollars into local food stores, by the hundreds of thousands every month. The more eligible people participate, the more money re-circulates in the local economy. The Department of Children and Families is supposed to enroll eligible recipients, and does, but it doesn’t catch them all.

In 2010, Mobile Benefits Program organizers said, 3,300 households were eligible for enrollment but weren’t receiving food stamps. Monday morning, Bruce Ganger, executive director of Second Harvest North Florida, appeared before the Flagler County Commission to report that in two years, the mobile program, had enrolled 932 of those households, 73 percent of which were first-time food stamps participants, resulting in $1.8 million new food stamps dollars for the local economy.

Ganger was making the presentation to commissioners because county government is footing a significant portion of the mobile benefit program’s $57,000 annual cost.

The program was supposed to be funded by grants and donations even two years ago. But it fell short. After contributions from the United Way, the Department of Children and Families and individual and corporate donors, the program was still short about $20,000. Its organizers sought that amount, pledged for two years—or $40,000—from the county commission.

“When this issue first came to light the community was supposed to come together and raise the funds,” then-Commissioner Milissa Holland said in a commission meeting. “I sat in meetings where that was supposed to occur. I think often times it’s very easy to revert back to government and to kind of look for these funds for them to supply this program.”

But promises and assurances were made.

“They have guaranteed that after two years that they will have the grant money to support this full time in Flagler County, alone, just in Flagler County,” Doug Baxter, at the time the president of the Chamber of Commerce and the point person for the program, promised commissioners. “So we will have a full time person, moving forward, after two years, or sooner than that if we can get this money together. But they will take it over completely in two years, and fund the position.”

Craig Coffey, the county administrator, was supportive of the idea, and said the county could dip into its reserves to pay it, especially since it was time-limited. “Essentially I’m trying to treat this as a one-time, almost capital expenditure,” Coffey said two years ago. “Second Harvest has agreed to fund the position after two years, so there is no ongoing funding requirements above this $40,000 total, $20,000 and $20,000.”

The Memorandum of Understanding made that clear, too, specifying that after two years, “Second Harvest North Florida will be fully responsible for all the costs associated with operating this program.”

Those repeated assurances led the county to approve the funding, with then-Commission Chairman Alan specifying: “We will approve this as a stop-gap.”

So much for promises, pledges and assurances.

Peterson, Holland and Baxter are all gone now. The chamber made no presentation this morning. The United Way is no longer funding the program. And donors who had put up to $10,000 two years ago, such as Intracoastal Bank, aren’t doing so again.

Yet Second Harvest not only wants the county to continue funding the program. Ganger is asking for a doubling of the annual amount, to $40,000, and help pay for an additional part-timer.

Coffey, who has a good memory—and who began this budget season by telling commissioners that depleted reserves should be off limits, with the county facing a deficit and a long list of needs now totaling $6 million—was taken aback by Ganger’s request.

“Second Harvest was supposed to fund it on an ongoing basis,” after the first two years, Coffey told commissioners this morning. “I wasn’t aware that they were going to ask for additional funding today.”

Ganger had cleverly crafted his presentation by first speaking about the success of the program in numbers, then having Donna Mota, the benefits specialist who’s the actual person in the trenches in Flagler County, describe the human side of the program, and how people on food stamps belie the stereotypes.

“I don’t need to read about these stories in the paper or hear them on TV,” Mota said, after referring to a family losing a home to a fire and another losing a mother to a shooting. “I hear them because those are the people that come to me for help, the people who are laid off, the people who went to work one day, showed up, and the doors of that company weren’t open anymore, or families who’d suffered horrible tragedies and the person they were depending on is no longer there to help them.”

There was no disagreement from commissioners, one of whom—Nate McLaughlin, whose district is the poorest in the county—spoke laudably of food stamps’ help as a bridge over hardships, and of his recent  sense of inspiration from a forum on the homeless to do more for those who need help.

Only then did Ganger spring it on the commissioners.

He’d like to expand the program. Add a part-timer. And double the county’s contribution to $40,000. “We would like the county to continue to invest in this because of the significant return on the investment,” he said. (As an economic benefit, he said, $1 locally generates $1.8 in economic activity, so the program would have yielded a $3 million in such activity.)

Currently, the program has secured $13,000 from the Department of Children and Families for another year, and a $10,000 grant through Feeding America, leaving $27,000 unfunded to keep it at its current level of one local worker—Mota.

In an interview this afternoon,  Ganger was adamant: “This promise is not being broken,” he said, referring to the agreement Second Harvest had signed two years ago to assume all costs by now.  The program has been successful, and it’s generating money for the local economy, he said. “I would like to expand it because we have some good momentum, we see that the impact were having.”

The county was not without its own recruiters of food stamps recipients. County officials two years ago were under the impression that Second Harvest’s outreach person would be going door to door, setting up appointments with people in their homes—those hard-to-reach potential recipients who, because of transportation or other challenges, don’t make it to a computer in town where they can apply. That’s not what the outreach has been about. For the most part, Mota’s schedule is site-specific—as, for example, at Access Flagler, the once a month community outreach event the county organized for the needy, at the county fairgrounds.

For $40,000, Coffey said in an interview this afternoon, the county could have its own outreach person. “There’s some other options we can pursue if we’re talking that kind of money,” Coffey said.

In any case, it’ll be a decision commissioners will have to make very soon—beginning tomorrow, during a budget workshop—in the face of serious challenges. They’ll have to pick and choose between what programs and services to preserve and which to cut, from new vehicles for certain departments to the food stamps program to improvements at the library, Coffey said.

Ganger said he was not “holding the program hostage” to the commissioners’ decision: it would continue without their funding, which he would have to find elsewhere, he said.

The matter drew an unexpected rebuke from a member of the public in the audience.

“I’m just uncomfortable with the concept of using taxpayer money to encourage people to accept more taxpayers’ money,” said James Ulsamer, a member of the county’s economic development council. He spoke as a county resident, however, not as a member of that board. He had no doubts about the sincerity of the people involved in the program, but questioned its assumptions.

“The measurement of how effective a program like this is should not be so much how much more people are added to public assistance, but how those numbers can be reduced over time by helping the people get from a difficult place to a place where they’re self-supporting,” Ulsamer said. “I also challenge this concept of multiplier that $1 million in payments bestow $1.8 million in benefits to the community. I have an economics degree from a decent college and I spent 40 years trying to unlearn some of the things they taught. But the idea of $1 million produces $1.8 million supposes that the people who didn’t get those benefits have something like an 80 percent savings rate, and they don’t. That money would be spent by others.”

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15 Responses for “After Pledging to End $20,000 Request, Second Harvest Asks Flagler To Double It Instead”

  1. A.S.F. says:

    The Flagler County Chamber of Commerce (the bastion of the tea partiers in this county) seem to have difficulty with following through with their own funding promises, don’t they?

  2. kmedley says:

    “I’m just uncomfortable with the concept of using taxpayer money to encourage people to accept more taxpayers’ money,” said James Ulsamer.

    Mr. Ulsamer, you are not alone.

  3. John Boy says:

    Per Mitt Romney there should be no need for these types of programs, he said we have safety nets that take care of the needy. So it looks like the Tea Baggers are caught in another lie.


    Why not ask Mr.Ganger to spend money teaching people to be a little bit more responsible for themselves,and a little less dependant on their government ? By the way his he on a salary ?

    • A.S.F. says:

      Mr Ganger is a professional fund raiser. That is his resume and that is what he is supposedly paid to do. He has many years of experience in private profit concerns like Xerox. Look up his prior work history. My problem with private non-profits is that they often take advantage of the public’s dissatisfaction (real or perceived) with anything run by the government. This serves as an excuse for states and regional cummunities to hire private companies to run programs that are supposed to address societal problems and social needs. You see it happen with prisons, juvenile facitlities, and other supposed social service providers (who turn out to be anything but–sometimes even with child support collections. In my years as a licensed Social Worker, I have seen juvenile facilities turned over to agencies who refuse to allow psychologists access to kids who are actively suicidal or homicidal (t too many billing hours to contracted professionals+ too much money.) Child support payments get “conveniently” lost through untraceable cracks and are never recovered. We’ve all seen hideous examples of privately run prisons that refuse to provide adequtae training to their staff, supervision of the inmates, inadequate levels of medical and mental health services that no one with a conscience would refuse their dog. The Child advocacy center fiasco is just another example of how foolish it is to blindly believe that business people can run social programs so much better than government agencies can. Often, money starts lining the wrong pockets at the expense of those who truly need the services and the entire system gets run into the ground. Obviously, Second Harvest needs to bone up on how to do better outreach to people in need. I wonder how many individuals in control of this agency (or similar agencies in the area) actually have an advanced degree in Social Service and hands on experience in social welfare and communtiy programs ( and I am not just talking about being a Board Member of some program.) I am willing to bet, not enough. Being a successful business person with connections to local politicians and business-based organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, is not the perfect criteria to run an community agency. The money put aside for providing these vital safety nets is too precious and scarce these days to keep making the same mistake.

  5. downinthelab says:

    What if I am eligible but don’t want to take the benefit? I am supporting my family and don’t feel the need for pubilc assistance.

    • Magnolia says:

      Downinthelab: There are many driving jaguars in this community “taking advantage” of this. That needs to be stopped first.

    • carol says:

      downinthelab, i feel the same way, we are more than likely eligible to get food stamps, just a few dollars mind you, because we dont have children in the house, but as long as we can afford to buy our own grocery’s, we will continue to do it on our own and when the food gets too high to buy we will just buy less. Others out there need it more.

  6. Outsider says:

    Gotta love it. We have a government program that offers free food for people. Then, we need another program to get the people to sign up for the free food. Then, the program to get the people to sign up for the government free food program runs over budget, contrary to the promises made just a year ago. Now, they want more money and more people for the program that’s supposed to get people to sign up for the free food program. You can’t make this stuff up.

  7. Kip Durocher says:

    ““I’m just uncomfortable with the concept of using taxpayer money to encourage people to accept more taxpayers’ money,” said James Ulsamer, a member of the county’s economic development council.”

    So, Mr. Ulsamer, then as a member of the county’s economic development council, I feel assured that you will be voting to end all expenditures of taxpayer’s money by the economic development council in their costly advertisement campaigns to lure businesses to Flagler County where they are then offered more taxpayer’s money.

    “And donors who had put up to $10,000 two years ago, such as Intracoastal Bank, aren’t doing so again.”

    I think there is a key player at Intracostal Bank who is currently on the hunt for a nice price on some real estate here in Flagler County ~ that will be paid for with taxpayer’s money. Perhaps that individual could step up to the plate and get a drive going to raise some money to continue this worthwhile program. I would gladly volunteer my time to assist him if requested

    “The chamber made no presentation this morning.”

    I am assuming that this is a reference to the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce. If this is the case, the chamber is a consistent recipient of a nice chunk of taxpayer’s money ~ year after year ~ decade after decade. Maybe they could be gracious and allow their long standing taxpayer’s money allotment to be cut by a comparatively small fraction and shift it over to fund this enrollment program. After all, this money is spent in area businesses. Is not the goal of the chamber to increase local business?

    And finally, times are hard right now, for a lot of people. I think we all know that. Flagler County is a great place to live and is full of warm, generous, helping people. Why can’t we all get behind this and make it work?

  8. confidential says:

    My impression is that these privately run organizations receiving taxpayers $$ to help the needy of our community have, like just in the case of the Children Advocacy Volusia, (four million a year?) too much administrative cost that takes away form the basic need of our citizens to be helped. Gets worse even when some of those entities directors run away with the funds like happened in Volusia Rape Crisis and Flagler Family Life center in 2006…and that is because they were caught red handed. God knows for how long the stealing was going on. This is when I oppose our taxes being squandered to them. As private non profit we have no say or right to see their financial’s. Perfect Scam of privatization.
    What about running these organizations with “volunteer retired professionals” instead setting up offices in the plenty of wasted space of the Taj Mahal?

  9. Jennifer Lopez says:

    The Taj Mahal belongs to the people of the Flagler County. We have people in Flagler County that need help, yes free food, and medical and lots of other things, Believe it or not. over 40 percent of our population in this county , are on free lunch in schools or some kind of assistance.
    The county needs to hire someone who can work off hours to investigate some of these folks, and find out if the needs is really there.
    Not have someone like Mota that takes the application and approves them and sends them on there merry way until the next check.
    Yes there are some of these folks that abuse it.
    I would take that challenge . after hours, go to the homes, call the employers , see what is really going one the so the people who really need it get it.

  10. Robert says:

    It sounds like some of the people commenting here are and have been living on a full belly.

    None of them have probably ever even missed a meal, let alone not had enough to eat.

  11. Raul Troche says:

    Because the state has shut down my business I have had to go on food stamps. I am grateful for that. However it is a much abused system and I don’t like them pushing them at the cost of taxpayers in order to get federal funds. They have an agenda. It is like leaning on a cracked stick which when it breaks will go through your hand.

    • A.S.F. says:

      Them, them…Who is “them?” Raul–You admit to having to resort to using food stamps out of desperation yourself. I am sure you are not happy about it. Yes, there are people who try to take advantage of the system. I’ve got a newsflash for you–There always will be individuals like that. Not because of “Liberals” or Obama or because of moral decay in our country. It’s because human beings have always been, and will always be, capable of both good and bad, weakness and strength. You try to weed out the bad in people and captitalize on the good. None of us so-called “decent” people would like to believe that we would find ourselves in a position of having to depend on public assistance of any kind. But, unfortunately, in life, there are no guarantees. That safety net needs to be there for all us. There are many people living on the margins and they are old and young , male and female and all colors of the rainbow. Let’s just concentrate on putting the correct checks and balances in place and not settle for throwing money at problems we don’t like to look at ( because they ain’t pretty) and that we wish would just disappear from view. Funding needs to be accompanied by compassion and well-thought out solutions to the issues they are supposed to help correct–solutions that are flexible enough to change with the times in order to keeping working on an ongoing basis. Kicking people when they down as an easy way to dismiss them doesn’t make us fine upstanding christian citizens. Remember…The one rule in the universe that we can count on is that “what goes around, comes around.” I hope none of us fine folk will ever find ourselves in want but, you know, someday we just might. Let’s not settle for being stupidly superior about this. We can make this a better world for all of us if we are willing to keep our minds open and work at it–THAT is what makes America such a great country to live in, IMHO.

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