While some observers have said in the news it’s been a slow start to legislative session, several issues important to The Children’s Campaign have already been filed this year, including civil citation, children prosecuted as adults, expanding eligibility for juvenile records expunction and Keys to Independence (opportunity to take action later in this publication). In addition, issues that ultimately affect children and families such as the budget, and the impact of Medicaid and Managed Medical Assistance Program are being dissected.
While much activity is occurring, the first committee week of the new year was slow for actual meetings. In fact, only one third of the meetings originally scheduled in the Senate took place. Senate committee leaders appear to be taking Senate President Negron’s advice to heart:
“If there aren’t bills to be considered and there isn’t other business, I don’t view it as a dereliction of duty or as somewhat of a negative connotation on the chair that the chair elects not to have a meeting. Senators have plenty of other competing responsibilities…we all have lots of things that can be done if we are not in a committee meeting.”
Major Focus on Budget and Medicaid
A major focus of this week (and all of the committee weeks so far) was the budget and the impact on Medicaid and Managed Medical Assistance Program. The state has asked the federal government for a five-year extension of a waiver that allows Medicaid services to be provided through managed care providers. This comes after the state received a $75.1 million past due notice for services paid at a lower rate than contracted by the Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration.
Thought-provoking presentations included discussions on the testing of sexual assault kits, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).
The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee learned about improvements for testing sexual assault kits. The new statute that passed last year requires law enforcement to submit kits within 30 days and be tested within 120 days. More than 13,000 untested kits from last year are being worked on by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). FDLE has implemented cost saving and efficiency measures to get sexual assault kits tested on time.
The House Children, Families and Seniors subcommittee received a presentation on TANF/SNAP. Much of the discussion focused on work requirements and the need to help those receiving benefits find employment. Kimberly Moore, VP of Workforce Development at Tallahassee Community College, presented on the need for job training, breaking the cycle of dependence.
Diaper Gap Addressed in Filed Bills
Low-income families in America spend twice as much as higher income families on diapers. Some of the poorest families spend 14 percent of their income — an average of $936 per child — on diapers each year. This disparity is based on many factors, including higher income families having the ability to buy in bulk, drive to the store with the best price and utilize online shopping. In contrast, low-income families often purchase diapers at local convenience stores that carry smaller diaper packages, resulting in much higher prices per unit.
In Florida, 26% of children under age 3 live in families earning less than 100% of the federal poverty line ($24,300 per year for a family of four), and an additional 26% live in families that earn between 100-200% (up to $48,600 per year). This means almost 343,000 Florida infants and toddlers live in families that most likely struggle with access to new, clean diapers.
Some families are faced with the difficult choice between buying diapers or paying for food, rent and utilities. Without adequate diaper hygiene, young children can suffer from urinary tract or staph infections and may even require hospitalization. In many cases, without adequate diapers, babies can’t participate in early childhood education programs – leaving parents without safe and regulated options for their children while they work.
There is also no federal assistance for purchasing diapers, unlike other essentials like food or health insurance. The only dollars that can be used toward diapers is Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), but TANF has to cover many other expenses and other basic needs. In Florida, the maximum TANF benefit for a single parent family with two children is $303 a month, which is $145 less than the national average.
Some diaper advocates propose cloth as an option to solve the problem. Unfortunately, the cost to start cloth diapering is very high. In most cases, cloth diapers cannot be washed in shared laundry machines due to hygiene issues, and many child care facilities do not accept cloth diapers.
This Session, bills have been proposed in both the House and Senate that would remove sales tax from diapers. Sponsored by Senator Book (D-Plantation) and Representative Cruz (D-Tampa) SB 252 and HB 71 would exempt diapers and baby wipes from sales tax. Seven states including Rhode Island, Vermont, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Massachusetts have already passed similar measures exempting diapers from sales use or tax.
These measures would benefit all Floridians with diaper age children regardless of income level. For those spending up to 50 cents per diaper at 6% sales tax, the measure could save families almost $70 per year ̶ enough to buy roughly 156 more diapers.
Other measures proposed around the country to address the “diaper gap” include:
- vouchers to low income families to offset the cost of diapers;
- bulk buying options for the state government to then sell to low income families at discounted rates;
- increased funding for child care organizations serving low-income children to offset the cost of diapers; and
- state funding of diaper banks.
Voices for Florida Provides Update on Open Doors Progress
Voices for Florida, an affiliate of The Children’s Campaign, has released an update on Open Doors, a new promising coordinated system for serving exploited and trafficked children and young adults.
Voices for Florida has assembled a highly credentialed financial and business team made up of noteworthy professionals. The update included an overview of the leadership put in place to lead Open Doors. According to the publication, “Leading the statewide team is Robyn Metcalf, Open Doors Statewide Director…Dianne Williams-Cox has been selected to serve as the Open Doors Statewide Assistant….Both Robyn and Dianne will work closely with Linda Alexionok, Voices for Florida president. Roy Miller, president of The Children’s Campaign, who co-envisioned Open Doors with Dr. Lawanda Ravoira, will serve as senior advisor.”
Some other highlights from the update include the initial target regions, and information on local community outreach meetings. To subscribe to further updates on Open Doors from Voices for Florida, click here.
Take Action Notice: Keys to Independence
Senate Bill 60, Senator Bean (R-Jacksonville), on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, Monday, January 23, 4-6 p.m., 401 Senate Office Building. Here is a video about the program prepared by the Keys to Independence Program.
If you like reading our publications, we need your help to keep them coming. The Children’s Campaign accepts NO government funding, and therefore donations from readers like you are necessary in order to retain our independent voice. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today!
This Legislative Connection is brought to you by Amanda Ostrander, Nicki Harrison, Roy Miller, Karen Bonsignori, and Tiffany McGlinchey