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Issue 2  | March 13, 2017 

Top News: 2017 Florida Legislative Session Begins
Opening Day in the House of Representatives.

Opening day of session is normally a time for celebration and talk about everyone working together to do what's best for Florida. But last week's opening day was far from the norm.  Fundamental differences between Governor Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran portend a rocky road for the next 8 weeks and a strong possibility of extended "special sessions" to resolve these differences. 

The Governor's priorities are framed in his proposed $83.5 billion budget, which calls for $618 million in tax cuts $85 million for business incentives, and additional education spending to be paid for with $400 million in increased local property tax revenue. It also reduces funding for hospitals' charity care by nearly $900 million.

Senate President Negron's priorities include increased higher education funding " to create World Class Universities"; a massive water project to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges that wreak environmental and economic havoc along the St. Lucie, Indian and Caloosahatchee Rivers; and juvenile justice reform -- expanded civil citation and diversion programs -- "to stop criminalizing adolescence".
House Speaker Corcoran's priorities focus largely on restructuring the legislative and budget process to be more transparent and accountable.  His new House Rules require lobbyists to submit electronic forms before addressing any issue with a legislator, and require legislators' budget requests to be filed and heard in committees as individual bills.
In this context, Florida's 32 local United Ways will continue to advocate for our communities and those we serve. During the 2017 Session, we'll focus on three 2017 Florida United Way Consensus Legislative Agenda priorities: Early Learning, Access to Health Care and Financial Stability.
Early Education:
Florida Office of Early Learning Director, Rodney MacKinnon.
There are about 1.3 million children under age 6 in Florida; almost half of them live in low-income families. Investments in quality early learning, including professional development for early learning teachers, reduce disparities and support kindergarten readiness and later school success, resulting in savings in later years.

In 2015-16 nearly 7,000 small and large private child care businesses served more than 200,000 children of Florida's low-income working families in the School Readiness program, administered by the Florida Office of Early Learning. However, low reimbursement rates, which have not increased in more than 20 years, make program quality unaffordable for School Readiness providers.
Financial Stability: Overview
Lars Gilberts, Statewide ALICE Director, at the 2017 Florida ALICE Report press launch.

ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) families comprise 30% of Florida households. These hard-working families pay taxes, and provide services that are vital to Florida's economy: retail sales, customer service, laborers, hospital workers, health care aides and more.

But while they live above the Federal Poverty Level, they still cannot consistently afford the basics of housing, food, health care, child care, and transportation. One financial emergency can plunge ALICE households into poverty.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a work-based tax refund allowing ALICE families to recover their hard-earned wages, and is recognized as one of the best anti-poverty tools in the U.S.

In 2016, IRS-certified volunteers in Florida, working at over 733 tax preparation sites coordinated by United Way, AARP, Military and VITA filed 225,000 tax returns that helped ALICE families, the elderly and disabled claim over $232 million in tax refunds including EITC.

But more than $1.1 billion in potential EITC tax credits and $193 million in higher-education tax credits are unclaimed by ALICE households each year, "left on the table" in Washington.
Access to Health Care: Overview
House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee members (l. to r.) Reps. David Richardson, Nick Duran and Daisy Baez.

Health care access is a critical need for working families, yet Florida continues to have one of the highest uninsured rates in the nation. Nearly 380,000 Florida children still do not have health care coverage even though most are eligible for Florida's KidCare insurance program. Expanding outreach to eligible families and streamlining the KidCare enrollment process will reduce the number of uninsured children, increasing their access to preventive health care and supporting their success in school. 

Home and community-based care for seniors reduces hospital admissions and re-admissions, keeping down the cost of health care including Medicare and Medicaid. One study finds that paid at-home care decreased doctor visits by 25 percent annually. But while home and community-based care benefits seniors and costs far less than nursing home care, too many Florida seniors do not have access to these important services. Currently, over 60,000 seniors statewide are on waitlists for home care support services.
Bills to Watch this Week

HB 79 Relating to Education (Harrell, R- Stuart): Revises duties of Just Read, Florida! Office relating to reading instruction; requires Office of Early Learning (OEL) to identify guidelines for reading instruction strategies; revises requirements & criteria for remediation & identification of students with reading deficiencies; revises reporting requirements relating to school improvement & accountability; revises requirements for instructional materials funds; revises duties of school districts relating to professional development.
SB 852 Human Trafficking (Garcia, R-Hialeah; with Benaquisto, Campbell & Flores): Requires the Department of Children and Families or a sheriff's office to conduct a multidisciplinary staffing on child victims of commercial sexual exploitation to determine the child's service and placement needs; defines the term "commercial sexual exploitation"; adds human trafficking to the list of crimes requiring pretrial detention of the defendant.
SB 854 Task Force on Affordable Housing (Brandes, R- St. Petersburg): Creates a task force on affordable housing; requires members of the task force to serve without compensation; directs the task force to develop recommendations for the state's affordable housing needs, subject to certain requirements.
SB 152 Small Business Financial Assistance (Garcia, R- Hialeah): Creates the Veterans Employment Small Business Grant Program within the Department of Veterans' Affairs; authorizes the corporation to accept and administer moneys appropriated for such grants; requires a small business to apply to and enter into an agreement with the corporation to receive grants. APPROPRIATION: $10,000,000.00
SB 1202 Veterans Annual Sales Tax Holiday (Montford, D-Tallahassee) Creates an annual sales tax holiday for veterans; specifies items that are eligible for the sales tax holiday; authorizes certain retailers to elect not to participate in the sales tax holiday.
Quick Links
Questions or Comments?
Contact Ted Granger, United Way of Florida, or Jess Scher, United Way of Miami-Dade.