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2016 a good year for Florida United Way policy priorities

March 25, 2016

The 2016 Florida Legislative Session concluded “Sine Die,” on Friday, March 11, ending the 60-day session on time after legislators passed the $82.3 billion state budget bill with a nearly unanimous vote. In what came as a surprise, Governor Rick Scott offered an early release of his veto list before even receiving the budget from the legislature, cutting a little more than $256.1 million in local projects and other spending initiatives.

This relatively “light” use of his line item veto authority put to rest a potential showdown with state lawmakers, who had reportedly been discussing a return to the Capitol to override some vetoes – a move not seen since 2010 under Governor Charlie Crist. Speculation was fueled by legislators rejecting many of Governor Scott’s tax-cut priorities and a request for a $250 million “Florida Enterprise Fund” of business incentives.

For a good rundown on legislative initiatives, see the Tampa Bay Times: “What passed, what failed in the 2016 Florida legislative session

For a list of local projects that didn’t survive the veto pen, see The Florida Times-Union: “Northeast FL projects mostly spared from Scott’s veto list

The 2016 Legislative session can only be categorized as a success for the priorities outlined in Florida United Ways Consensus Legislative. Below is a rundown of those priorities and where we ended up.

FINANCIAL STABILITY

  • UNITED WAY PRIORITY: Invest $1.2 million in state funding to expand the capacity of free tax preparation and financial education programs.
  • OUTCOMES: We were successful in getting an appropriation included in the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), Workforce Services for $500,000 – “United Way of Florida – Financial Literacy and Prosperity Program” (Line 2177A, Workforce Projects).
RealSense volunteer preparing and filing a community members taxes during the 2016 RealSense kickoff.
United Way of Northeast Florida’s RealSense initiative offers free tax preparation and financial education.  

After two years of advocacy, which had its genesis in trying to replicate the success of our own RealSense program statewide, the United Ways of Florida made this a top priority, which was carried in the Senate by our Duval delegation’s Audrey Gibson and in the House by Representative George Moraitis of Broward.

This appropriation will help our network assist more than 12,500 low-income Floridians and will generate more than $19 million in tax refunds, resulting in increased economic activity and prosperity for working Floridians. It will also help decrease the over $1.1 billion in tax credits that go unclaimed by Floridians every year. From here, we are working to develop a contract with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity that meets our statewide objective and allows us to build on this appropriation next legislative session.

 

EDUCATION

  • UNITED WAY PRIORITIES: Link school readiness provider payments to early learning quality standards and the actual cost of providing quality care; increase school readiness funding by $30 million; restore funding for Florida’s voluntary prekindergarten (VPK) program to the pre-recession (2007) level of $2,677 per child; and expand access to early detection and treatment of developmental delays and disabilities by appropriating $4 million to Help Me Grow.
    ReadingPals volunteer, Vickie Robinson with ReadingPals students.
    ReadingPals volunteer Vickie Robinson with ReadingPals students.
  • OUTCOMES: Early learning was a little bit of a mixed bag this year. Though we did make substantial gains in terms of funding and alignment to quality standards, our only drawback was it didn’t go far enough. School readiness spending was increased by $10 million, while the VPK per-pupil spending rate remained flat at $2,437. We did get a $5 million increase of for the School Readiness Provider Performance Funding Pilot that United Way helped pass in 2014, and Help Me Grow funding rose by $650,000, ensuring we will be able to continue to offer this program through United Way of Northeast Florida’s 2-1-1.

The biggest move in early learning was the passage of HB7053, which conformed Florida statutes to meet requirements of the new federal Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which greatly increased public information available on child-care programs and required background screenings of child-care workers.

HEALTH

  • UNITED WAY PRIORITIES: Appropriate $1.1 million in state funds to eliminate the KidCare five-year waiting eligibility requirement for lawfully residing immigrant children; maximize home- and community-based services for older adults to reduce nursing-home costs; remove barriers to technologies that reduce costs and increase access to healthcare; adopt a bipartisan ‘Florida plan’ to expand health coverage for uninsured Floridians.
  • OUTCOMES: After seven years of advocacy by United Way and many state partners, the Legislature finally eliminated the five-year ban for lawfully residing immigrant children to enroll in the Florida KidCare program. With this change, as many as 17,000 uninsured children statewide will have access to the health care they need. The legislature authorized $28 million in federal funds to pay for this expansion with no additional state revenue required.

While the Legislature didn’t touch the third rail of expanding health-care coverage and drawing down federal Medicaid expansion dollars, they did shore up the loses expected when the Federal Low-Income Pool (LIP) funding, which covers under-insured or indigent patients, is reduced to a little more than $600 million in the upcoming budget year, down from $1 billion. What that means for our own UF Health is, in the best-case scenario, the hospital would only need to absorb a $1.8 million funding reduction, according to analysis by the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida. In a worst-case scenario, the hospital would take a $17 million hit.

All in all, it was a good year for United Way policy priorities. Not only did the United Ways of Florida put some issues in the win column, but they grew their capacity and are better positioned for success in subsequent years. United Way was even included in a list of session winners in a Florida Politics blog post. Read it here: Winners & Losers of the 2016 Legislative Session