An official at the Florida Department of Children and Families is warning that the elimination of challenge grants for local homeless coalitions could be a “critical” blow to the organizations.

As I reported yesterday, the current House budget eliminates $2,377,083 in Homeless Coalition and Challenge Grants.

Tom Pierce, the executive director of the Office on Homelessness at the Department of Children and Families, says that local homeless coalitions rely on that money to help them plan and apply for federal grants. According to Pierce, federal programs, which sometimes require local matching, make up a significant chunk of the funding for services in homeless coalitions throughout the state. But he says that state money is important for the planning and “groundwork” that local coalitions do.

“The [challenge grants] are critical to get the money here,” Pierce says. He says state funding “fills in the gaps” in federal grants. According to Pierce, because the grants are “flexible money,” they allow the coalitions to address important needs that federal grants are not allocated for.

Legislation is currently moving through the state House and Senate that would raise money for homeless services in the state, by allowing citizens obtaining a driver’s license the option of donating a dollar to homeless services.

Pierce says the bill is a strong idea, but the revenue from that measure cannot replace the $2.3 million that the state has given to local coalitions in the past. He explains that other programs receiving voluntary donations from driver’s licenses typically raise between $20,000 and $30,000 a year. Lawmakers have claimed the bill would bring in up to $1.5 million a year.

Homelessness in the state continues to grow. Pierce says the country is facing a growing number of homeless families, and that there has been a 15 percent increase in the number of children who are homeless. According to Pierce, homeless coalitions are going to “need a lot of support from the state,” and the challenge grants should be a “mainstay” of the budget.

Even though the House appropriations bill does not contain funding for the challenge grants, Gov. Rick Scott’s budget recommendations do maintain the funding.

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