The Florida Bar Foundation Board of Directors met via Zoom conference on June 18, 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The major actions of the board and reports received included:
Board approves FY 2020-21 budget 10.4% less than previous year’s budget.
The Foundation’s FY 2020-21 Operating Budget was presented and approved by the Board. FY 2019-20 expenses to date are $709,070 below budget. The Operating Budget for FY 2020-21 was approved at $2,883,085, which represents a 10.4 reduction from the Foundations’ FY 2019-20 budget. The Foundation’s Operating Budget has been reduced an average of 10% the past two fiscal years.
The Board also voted to apply the Foundation’s Spending and Reserve Policy for FY 2020-21 Grants Reserve Allocations. This policy was adopted in an effort to provide more consistency and certainty regarding Foundation funding while protecting against insolvency going forward.
Board approves a limited number of grants and two requests for carryover of unspent funds. Board also reserves unspent grants for COVID-19 relief efforts.
Two grants from the Engle award funds provided by the Middle District of Florida were awarded to Southern Legal Counsel, Inc. and Community Law Program, Inc. These funds total $240,564 and represent the amount of funds remaining under this program. The awards will allow these two programs to continue their existing Engle grant projects a second year. Two Limited Matching Grants awards totaling $45,000 were approved with respect to Florida Legal Services, Inc. (FLS) and Brevard County Legal Aid (BCLA). BCLA’s award is conditioned on it securing a Community Development Block Grant from the City of Palm Bay. The grant to FLS is conditioned on it securing funding under the federal Victims of Crime Act administered by the Office of the Florida Attorney General. The Foundation’s Limited Matching Funds program was created in 2019 and is designed to provide periodic opportunities for grantees to obtain limited funding in support of and/or to leverage funding from other primary sources.
The Board also approved a request for bridge funding by the FSU College of Law Public Interest Law Center’s Veteran Legal Clinic. The $50,000 funding will allow the Veteran’s Legal Clinic to continue operations and the clinic pledged to use the funds specifically to provide individual representation to veterans directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two carryover requests were also approved by the Board. Community Law Program’s Residential Eviction Mediation Program was allowed to carryover $8,854 of its 2019 Community Economic Development Grant to respond to COVID-19 issues, including public education for landlord/tenant issues and increasing staff response. FLS was allowed to carryover $119,237.37 of its 2019 Training Initiative award and these funds will be applied by FLS toward the continuation of its Training Initiative, specifically focusing on developing trainings for all grantees related directly to COVID-19 issues.
Lastly, the Board approved transferring all unspent grants funds allocated for FY 2019-20 to a special fund to address COVID-19 relief efforts. Approximately $1.4 million has been set aside in this regard. The Foundation will work diligently to identify ways to provide as much assistance to its grantees in responding to the widely expected increase in need for legal services and assistance arising out of the pandemic. Initial funding efforts are expected to begin in late July or August 2020.
Investment Committee reports significant loss in investment income directly related to COVID-19 economic fallout.
The Investment Committee reported that the Foundation’s financial advisors indicate that the United States experienced the deepest economic recession since WWII, but potentially the sharpest recovery as well. Nevertheless, the Foundation suffered approximately $2.24 million in investment losses beginning in March 2020. Recovery of approximately $1.2 million was realized as of May 31, but it was generally understood that the Foundation in all likelihood will have suffered a net loss on investments for FY 2019-20. Cautious optimism was expressed for an eventual recovery of market losses, but federal interest rates were not expected to rise until at least the end of 2021. This will have a significant impact on the amount of IOTA revenues that may be available for FY 2020-21 and thereafter.
IOTA Enhancement Committee
Committee Chair Joseph “Jody” Hudgins reported the committee had an initial meeting and explored potential projects for enhancing IOTA and other revenues. The projects involve various business community partners and will be explored in greater depth going forward. Committee liaison Lushawn Phillips reported that IOTA receipts through April 30, 2020 totaled $13,650,949, a 28% increase from the same time period last year. She further stated FY 2019-20 receipts were expected to total approximately $16.1 million, which is lower than originally projected last year but higher than expected after the economic recession in March 2020. This was attributed to the Foundation’s direct efforts with its Community Champions program and outreach to its partnering banks in an effort to delay the cuts in IOTA interest rates following the surprise cuts in federal interest rates. Further, IOTA revenues were projected at $9.46 million for FY 2020-21 based on the assumption that the Federal Reserve will not adjust current rates until at least the end of 2021.
Board approves first reading of Long-Range Technology Plan
Committee Chair Murray Silverstein reported that Foundation’s Technology Committee continued its work toward the development of a long-range plan for the Foundation as it relates to the promotion, funding and development of technology and innovation for increased access to justice by self-represented individuals, civil legal aid providers, and Florida lawyers. The draft plan was presented to the Board by the Committee with a recommendation for approval of first reading. Interim Director Eli Mattern explained the overall approach of the plan which was approved on first reading. A discussion ensued about technology assets currently harbored at the Foundation pending final approval of a long-range plan. The discussion centered on the objective of determining which assets add value to Florida’s civil legal infrastructure and the clients it serves. A secondary objective will be to attempt to make those assets that provide value self-supporting through either direct monetization of the asset or sponsorship funding by others. Assets determined to have little or no value above their production costs will be offered to others who may want to license, purchase, or assume such assets for continuation. The committee will continue to work on finalizing a long-range plan and report back to the Board at the Board’s next meeting.
NEXT MEETING. The Board’s next meeting will be on September 25, 2020, either remotely or in person in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.