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DMS Proposes Shut Down Of Giving Campaign As Lawmakers Search For Middle Ground

United Way
United Way of the Big Bend
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United Way of the Big Bend

Florida lawmakers are debating whether the annual state employee charity campaign should disappear forever or be overhauled.  The conversation comes after a Tallahassee Democrat report that outlining the amount of money going to the state contractor that runs the campaign.

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The charitable giving campaign started in the 80’s and for years was run by local United Way agencies. But Chad Poppell, Secretary of the Department of Management Services, says in 2007 other charities sued, claiming the arrangement was a conflict of interest. In 2013 the state chose a new contractor to run the campaigns: Solix.

“The contract specified that if overall contributions were below a $2.7 million threshold, Solix would be reimbursed on a cost-reimbursement basis. And due to the declining revenues you have in front of you, Solix has been paid on a cost-basis for the entire contract period," he told the Senate's Government Operations Committee.

Translation: Solix has been charging by the hour, instead of getting a fixed amount of money. And that’s caused the administrative overhead disparities reported by the Tallahassee Democrat. The paper reported that as contributions fell, fees paid to Solix grew: from 47 percent of donations in 2013, to 51 percent in 2014, and possibly more than 60 percent this year. The drop in giving came both because of the switch from United Way to Solix, and the economic downturn. But the issue is deeply disturbing to Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla.

“The idea of the state sanctioning a program that diverts a large percentage of he donated money to administrative costs, is very repulsive to me.”

Poppell has proposed shutting the program down completely, and letting state employees donate directly to the charities of their choice—effectively cutting out the middle man. But senators worry that could end state employee giving all together. Hays, along with Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate,  want to know if there’s some middle ground—encourage giving without favoring one charity or management service, over others.

“That’s something we can work with you on and have discussions on, and I’m happy to do that," said Poppell.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee,  says the episode has hurt state employee’s trust in the program and the state will have to work hard to restore it. DMS says it has re-negotiated its contract with Solix to move the program to a fixed-cost structure. But it doesn’t appear that's enough for lawmakers.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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