One month ago, we sent a letter along with 44 partner organizations to Gov. Ron DeSantis, urging for more action to strengthen our safety net programs to help families survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
To date, we haven’t heard anything in response — and while the governor’s office and state departments have taken some steps in the right direction to expand access to basic needs, as outlined in an April 30th announcement from the governor, there is much more that should be done to help Floridians weather this crisis.
There are now over 2 million people in our state that have applied for unemployment benefits—one in five working people. This is more than the entire population of Broward County. Many will need safety net programs to avoid hunger, stay well, and make ends meet.
Here are a few of the ways we have suggested that DeSantis can take executive action, today, in order to provide immediate help to those who need it most:
Expand Access to SNAP and TANF
Florida’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps families with low income put food on the table and is critical to helping affected Floridians during the pandemic.
While the state of Florida has recently taken important steps toward reducing food insecurity, including supplementing SNAP allotments for three months, allowing Floridians to file for SNAP benefits by phone, waiving work requirements, and extending recertification requirements for six months, more can be done.
Among other things, we urge DeSantis to expedite the applications of families affected by the pandemic and to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for permission to determine financial eligibility for SNAP based on expected income rather than past income.
We also urge the governor to pursue further extensions to recertification periods, provide additional months of SNAP emergency allotments throughout the health emergency, and expedite Florida’s plan for distributing SNAP to school-aged children who would otherwise receive free or reduced-price school meals (Pandemic-EBT).
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program currently provides temporary cash assistance to Florida families with very low income, providing another layer of support to those facing an unexpected crisis such as COVID-19.
DeSantis should expand TANF with special COVID-19-specific programs for relief and put the more than $16 million in unspent funds we have in reserve to good use by creating innovative relief programs.
Waive Requirements for WIC
The federally funded Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, Children (WIC) program provides food and nutrition counseling to mothers, infants, and children under the age of five who face nutritional risk.
The state of Florida should allow phone applications as well as early access to benefits to safeguard vulnerable Floridians against the real possibility of a WIC participant being unexpectedly quarantined.
Remove Barriers to Medicaid and KidCare Coverage
Both Medicaid and KidCare are cornerstones of our state’s health care system, providing coverage to nearly 4 million Floridians. While we commend the state for covering costs for COVID-19 tests and treatment of Medicaid enrollees, there are vital ways that the government can make it easier for families to enroll in these programs and get the care they need.
For example, the governor could direct state agencies to streamline the application process, allow for more telephone applications, and facilitate expedited enrollment for applicants. He should also eliminate waiting periods and waive premiums for Florida KidCare programs until the economy has recovered.
And of course, DeSantis could expand Medicaid to people making up to 138 percent of the poverty level, even on a temporary basis. When the Legislature returns in a potential special session they could take permanent action.
Over 2 million Floridians have lost their jobs, and many have lost their employer-sponsored health coverage at the very moment when access to health care is needed most. Medicaid expansion would be the most effective policy change to offer hundreds of thousands of Floridians affordable coverage, draw down more federal healthcare funding, and help our state recover from this pandemic.
These are just a few of the ways that the governor can strengthen our state’s safety net programs for the hundreds of thousands who will need it in the tough days ahead.
By taking these steps to strengthen protections for Floridians in need, we will make our state all the stronger both during the pandemic and during the long road to recovery.