COVID Relief Itemized List Expected to be Released

Noon, Sunday

The conference process between the Senate and House began with an organizational meeting on Friday evening. Committees met for the first time on Saturday, at which time the Senate conferees made their first offer. The House is expected to respond to the first round sometime today. The committees have until the close of business on Monday to reconcile at which time unresolved differences will bump up to the Appropriations Chairs. As more numbers are reported, The Children’s Campaign will update this Capitol Report on our website.

At this point in time, as a child advocacy organization, we can say with certainty that, overall, we are concerned.

The primary purpose of the COVID Relief dollars – and Florida is slated to receive $10-billion – is to assist states in restoring programs and services decimated by the pandemic and its impact on revenue collections.  This emergency relief was intended to make “states whole” and to meet the crisis facing the most vulnerable populations while economies rebounded as vaccines are administered in larger numbers.

Overall, we’re not seeing an implementation of those expectations. The Florida narrative streaming out of Tallahassee has been “… these are non-recurring federal dollars. We can’t spend them for recurring expenses”.

This narrative and the intended purpose of COVID Relief don’t match.

From news headlines, we’re reading about billions to be pumped into transportation projects – not COVID related. Resiliency (buzz word for sea level rise): not COVID related. Rehabilitation of state owned office buildings (not COVID related) and the establishment of a future emergency fund: key word here is “future” and not associated with the immediate crisis in front of us.

Here are the words not appearing in the headlines: child care restoration so parents can return to work; child welfare infrastructure and the coming wave of caseload increases as child abuse reports rise again; infusion of resources into the overwhelmed food banks; nor is there mention of expanded therapeutic mental health services as COVID related behavioral health issues escalate.

Here is another example of the lack of attention to the crisis with families in its grip: The Sadowski Fund for affordable housing is slated to be “raided” for one-half of its annual yield to fund resiliency. At one point two-thirds of the dollars were targeted. This is portrayed as some as an “improvement”. We don’t view it as such, especially with pending court petitions to evict families estimated to be the range of tens of thousands.

Maternal health – while solid in the House – has shown some improvement in the Senate during the first round of offers. The Healthy Start Coalitions are not facing a cut as was reported last week, but the $240-million needed to enhance post delivery services to a full twelve months is at $120-million in the Senate. It was a big step forward, but more work needs to be done.

In budgets as of now, human trafficking programs would receive less money than in the past couple of years. Those dollars have always been anemic despite the trafficking headlines. Reports of trafficking during COVID have risen by as much as 30%. Where’s the money for victim recovery intervention and services?

A thought: it’s good that first responders and teachers are slated for a $1,000 bonus from the relief funds. But how about the front line teachers and staff in child care who risked their health every day to keep the doors open? And the brave people who investigate child abuse, and the food bank teams that kept Floridians from having completely empty pantries? And any other number of front-line staff who serve vulnerable children? We ask, why only first responders and teachers?

We’re tracking but remain unsure of the total amount of money being directed to catch up students who fell behind the past year. There’s another pot of federal dollars for schools. But we know tens of thousands continue to be “missing” from school enrollment. What is the planned use of funds to find those kids and provide intensive remedial intervention?

With the $10-billion available and another $2-billion in increased Florida sales tax collections that was expected just 2 months ago, children’s needs certainly can be addressed.

Please help spread a clear message to policy-makers: what are you doing for children with the COVID Relief funds to make their programs and services whole, restoring all cuts and ensuring they have food and a roof over their head?

 

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This Capitol Report is brought to you by Amanda Ostrander, Karen Bonsignori and Roy Miller