Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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FL's Plan for Fed COVID Aid Should Boost Those Hit Hardest by Recession, Advance Equitable Policies, Set the Stage for Long-Term Recovery

Woman holding money. Copy: Florida's plan for ARPA's billions should help those most in need.
Photo: Sharon McCutcheon - Unsplash

The American Rescue Plan provides a crucial opportunity for the state to make short-term investments in programs, services, and infrastructure. How Florida’s leaders use this flexible pot of state aid will determine whether Floridians who are struggling the most right now can recover from the health crisis and recession.

There are four allowable uses for state aid stipulated in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The Florida Policy Institute’s proposals correspond to each of the Plan’s allowable uses.

The Florida Policy Institute (FPI) used three guiding principles to inform the recommendations: helping those most in need due to the COVID-19 and consequent economic crises; advancing antiracist, equitable policies to dismantle persistent inequalities; thinking strategically about how to set up and sustain long-term change from non-recurring (one-time) investments to mitigate the harmful consequences of the pandemic.

Responding to COVID-19 and its economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality

• Establish a temporary working family’s tax rebate program to grant individuals and households ARPA funds if they received a tax credit under the federal Earned Income Tax Credit program.

• Establish a temporary relief program to help small businesses meet their rental obligations.

• Increase funding and staffing for county health departments, which have seen significant funding and capacity cuts since 2010. COVID-19 has shown just how critical public health, particularly county health departments, are during a crisis to ensure families and communities' well-being.

• Provide a temporary increase in benefit levels for safety net programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which would help families afford food and meet their day-to-day needs. 

• Provide relief for families at risk of or experiencing utility shut-offs.

• Update and fix the state’s outdated CONNECT system to process unemployment claims effectively and efficiently.

Providing premium pay to essential workers

• Boost pay for staff at the Department of Corrections, which has been plagued by financial challenges in recent years, leading to understaffing.

• Provide one-time direct relief to child care workers, K-12 employees (including teachers), and postsecondary employees.

• Offer temporary premium pay to workers in Florida's hardest-hit industries, including tourism, hospitality, and foodservice.

Covering loss of revenue from the previous fiscal year

• Provide full funding for the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund to increase access to affordable housing and mitigate Florida’s affordable housing crisis.

• Provide full funding for environment and conservation programs, such as Florida Forever, State Lands, Waste Management, and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Along with Everglades restoration, these programs are integral to protecting Florida’s unique ecosystem and mitigating the effects of climate change.

• Fully fund mental health and substance use disorder treatment, particularly non-recurring special projects, which make up a substantial portion of the community mental health budget.

Investing in broadband, water, and sewer infrastructure

• Invest in broadband infrastructure to ensure that Floridians in all communities can access the internet for school, work, and recreation and diminish the "digital divide."

• Invest in water quality infrastructure, which is in dire need of upgrades, to improve wastewater treatment and human and industrial waste disposal. Many local water projects vetoed by the Governor in the current year's budget can be revived and reevaluated.

FPI looks forward to working with our fellow Floridians, partner organizations, and lawmakers in the coming months on maximizing the federal dollars.

Sadaf Knight  has over 11 years of experience in public policy research, advocacy and nonprofit management. She is CEO of Florida Policy Institute

Florida Policy Institute is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

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