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Community Action Agencies get help from the Florida Legislature in time to keep their doors open

It took a team effort to get budget authorization for agencies to continue serving low-income Floridians
Monkey Business
It took a team effort to get budget authorization for agencies to continue serving low-income Floridians

Florida’s 27 Community Action Agencies are celebrating the resumption of access to their money from the federal government. That means they can also resume their support for low-income families in crisis.

On April 7th, the state Department of Economic Opportunity told the Community Action Agencies it couldn’t give them their money. Not because it wasn’t there -- it was. But DEO didn’t have the so-called “budget authority” to release the funds. The agencies had already sent DEO $10 million worth of invoices, so they couldn’t serve clients till the money arrived. On Wednesday, it did.

“We are now able to open our doors and provide services to low-income families throughout the state,” said Tim Center, CEO of the Capital Area Community Action Agency in Tallahassee. “We’re excited because past-due invoices can now be paid, and we hope to see money in our bank accounts early next week.”  

DEO says it reached its limit on the funds due to an unprecedented demand for services this year -- inflation, Hurricane Ian, wildfires and other disasters. Now Center credits the department for the fix, along with state Senator Corey Simon of Tallahassee, who communicated the need to Senate Appropriations Chair Doug Broxson.

Center also credits Representative Allison Tant of Tallahassee, who sat in on Zoom calls with DEO and the agencies. Tant says DEO has a plan going forward.

“They said they are going to be doing regular weekly check-ins with the CEOs around the state of our networks to make sure that we are staying ahead of the game,” she said, “versus being surprised by the costs that have been incurred by struggling Floridians.”   

On Wednesday, DEO Deputy Secretary Benjamin Melnick emailed the CAAs that their pending invoices had been processed and the money would soon be deposited. And invitations had gone out for the first weekly call.

“So our staff are very happy, because they’re now back to work and doing what they want to do, which is to help folks in crisis,” said Center. “And we know that around the state, we’re able to keep our doors open and staff are employed.”  

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.