|Guest Column by Beth Hovind, LWVFL Poverty Action Chair
The Poverty Action Task Force has been following the implementation of programs to ease the pain from the virus which has basically shut down the country. Emergency grants have been issued in 4 different stages from Congress and there are discussions going on about a 5th. Actions have been implemented to protect low income residents from eviction, to increase food stamp allotments and to cover medical expenses created by the virus. We are not protecting the poorest among us. States are having difficulty maintaining access to unemployment compensation. Local agencies are running low on food pantries to assist.
Poverty and economic issues will likely rise to the top of our list of legislative priorities next year. There are challenges at all levels of government. At the national level, the National Low Income Housing Coalition advocates providing additional funding so that renters, now protected by a 120 day moratorium on rent per the Cares Act, will not be forced out after this point but be allowed to make up the rental payments over the next 12 months. They also support increased funding for homeless, particularly susceptible to the virus, and homeless shelter operations.
On the state level, concerns are about the Reemployment Assistance Program’s (formerly Unemployment Compensation) inability to handle the large number of claims. With the federal government augmenting state benefit level at $600/week, this program becomes an important source of financial assistance. Work seeking requirements were dropped as well as the wait week required of the earlier program. DEO has partnered with FedEx to print applications and deliver them to Tallahassee. But the applications still must be processed in a timely manner.
DCF closed it offices and is developing a plan to accept phone applications. Certification periods for cash, food and medical assistance have been extended for 6 months for those already on the programs and phone interviews are being used for TANF and SNAP. SNAP families are now allowed to purchase groceries on line but delivery fees are not covered. TANF work requirements have been waived but the monthly cash amount of $305 for a family of three is totally inadequate.
For medical care, the state has the ability to provide coverage if the state opts to obtain an enhanced Medicaid match, something that the League has long favored. And the public charge rule (penalizing citizenship applicants if they have ever used public benefits) will not be applied to the use of Medicaid for Covid-19 testing or treatment which is a good result.
Issues that will require our advocacy:
Resources and Partners on this Issue:
Florida Policy Institute
National Low Income Housing Coalition
National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
There is work for all of us to do. The Poverty Action Task Force meets via Zoom on the second Thursday of the month at 5:30. To join our discussion, contact Beth Hovind at firstname.lastname@example.org.