This Crisis Won’t Wait, So Neither Should Congress

U.S. Capitol. Credit: Getty Images

There are now nearly 370,000 COVID-19 cases in Florida. These are uncertain times, particularly for families with low income and few resources, as the health and economic crisis has disrupted every facet of daily life in the Sunshine State.

On May 15 the U.S. House passed the (HEROES) Act, which would help states preserve crucial public services and provide much-needed relief to families.

Now it’s the Senate’s turn to quickly pass a comprehensive federal aid package that boosts families and preserves their livelihood, as Floridians are finding it harder to pay rent, put food on the table, and take care of their health.

Below are key provisions that must be included in the next round of COVID-19 relief:

  1. Additional, flexible aid for state and local governments. The CARES Act provided Florida with $8.3 billion in pandemic relief dollars — $2.5 billion of which is earmarked for local governments — through the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF). However, the Department of Treasury specified that state CRF funding may not be used to make up for budget shortfalls. Florida faces a potential $8 billion hole and needs more aid to fill revenue gaps. Without additional aid, Florida faces unprecedented cuts in public services and untenable layoffs of teachers, health workers, and others in the midst of a health and economic crisis.

  1. Enhanced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. SNAP is a highly effective anti-poverty program that reduces food insecurity by helping families put food on the table. The number of SNAP participants in Florida has increased by 36 percent between February and May, from 2.68 million to 3.66 million. Congress should increase the maximum benefit level by 15 percent, boost the minimum monthly benefit from $16 to $30, and suspend SNAP time limits and rules changes that would cut eligibility and benefits.

  2. Continuation of expanded federal unemployment benefits. Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides an additional $600 per week to unemployed workers, is due to end on July 31, 2020. This is a particular hardship on unemployed workers of color and those without a high school diploma, who already face higher than average  unemployment rates in Florida.

  3. Increase in housing assistance and the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits (EITC and CTC). Florida already had one of the most severe affordable housing shortages in the nation, and because of record unemployment, more than one-third of residents have yet to make their July housing payment. Housing assistance funding will be key to averting a historic eviction tsunami in the coming months. Similarly, the EITC and CTC are proven ways to lift families out of poverty and should be expanded in this crisis.

  4. Creation of an emergency fund for states to help people who are falling through the cracks and create subsidized jobs programs when it’s safe to work. This fund would be an easy, targeted way to get basic income assistance to people facing severe hardship.

  5. Expansion and extension of increase in federal matching funds for Medicaid (FMAP) to help cover costs of sick residents and displaced workers. Congress should provide an additional FMAP increase of 12 percentage points retroactive to January 1, 2020, and keep the increase in place until Sept. 30, 2021.  After this date, the FMAP increase should not be reduced until the national unemployment rate falls below 5 percent.

Extending this funding is critical for states during the health crisis. In fact, the Council of Florida Medical School Deans, Florida Medical Association, and the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida all signed on to a letter to U.S. Senators urging support for it.

Florida Policy Institute strongly urges Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio to prioritize the health, safety, and economic stability of families in our state, and include the provisions listed above in the next federal aid package.