This week, U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., led fellow Democrats in the Florida congressional delegation a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis urging the continuation of the waiver of work and recertification requirements for Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to those affected most during the COVID-19 crisis.
Currently, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) estimates that there are still percentages of adults and children in need of food and shows an increase of Floridians enrolled in SNAP between February and May. The extension of the waivers would assist the residents and families of Florida who are most in need until the state returns to pre-COVID conditions. With unemployment rates on the rise and the pandemic on-going, it is imperative to continue the waivers for those enrolled, providing support and relief for children and adults who need it the most during these unprecedented times.
Joining Hastings on the letter were fellow Florida Democrats U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Al Lawson, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Stephanie Murphy, Donna Shalala, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.
The letter is below.
Dear Governor DeSantis:
We write in regards to waivers for work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and recertification requirements for Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF beneficiaries. It is unconscionable to limit aid for our most disadvantaged constituents while Florida continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge you to reinstate and extend all work requirement and recertification waivers until we are certain that the pandemic no longer threatens Floridians and Florida’s economy and until the job market returns to pre-COVID-19 levels.
It is clear the economic and health crises are affecting Floridians’ ability to make ends meet. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), 11 percent of adults in Florida report not having enough to eat and 23 percent of adults living with children in Florida have reported the children do not have enough to eat due to economic difficulties between June 25th and July 7th. The same study cited a 36 percent increase in SNAP beneficiaries in Florida between February and May. Families in Florida that have benefitted from the waiver of requirements and recertifications during the pandemic are the same families that are more likely to lose these benefits due to the reinstatement of restrictions that affect eligibility for these programs. Waiving requirements for basic safety nets like Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF can support those struggling to acquire necessities like nutritious meals, healthcare, and financial stability in a time of great uncertainty.
As you know, our state’s unemployment as reported by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for August was 8.4 percent; double the rate of August 2019. Unemployed Floridians from all sectors of our economy face immense uncertainty in the job market, in their ability to access nutritious food, and in their ability to access afford housing. The tourism industry, one of Florida’s top economic contributors, illustrates these concerns. VISIT FLORIDA Research estimates a loss of visitors for the first and second quarters of 2020 of 35.2 percent, only receiving 44.8 million visitors, compared to almost 70 million visitors in 2019. In addition to the concerning rates of unemployment now, as well as the uncertainty the future job market holds, far too many Floridians cannot confidently and safely go into work or send their kids to school due to the presence of COVID-19 in their communities. We must continue to thoroughly monitor the spread of COVID-19 and use guidance to develop further plans to protect communities from another spike like the one Floridians experienced this summer—this is especially important as we enter flu season.
It is unclear how quickly our economy will rebound and make up for the enormous losses experienced over the last few months. What is clear is that requiring a person to be employed before being able to access life sustaining benefits will exclude the most vulnerable who are unable to reenter the workforce due to barriers like the inability to secure safe and affordable childcare, or the need to care for elderly or ill family members. For many Floridians, meeting work requirements for these benefits amid a pandemic and economic downturn of enormous proportions is an impossibility. Further, waiving the recertification requirements until the end of the pandemic for beneficiaries will be crucial for their overall stability so they can focus their energy and time on keeping their families healthy and their heads above the water.
There is a clear need to extend waivers for SNAP, TANF, and Medicaid until such time as Florida’s unemployment rate reaches the statewide 2019 average of 3.1 percent; the statewide rate of COVID-19 positivity cases reaches 5 percent or below for 14 days, per World Health Organization (WHO) guidance; and the statewide State of Emergency Declaration originally imposed by Executive Order (E.O.) No. 2020-52-COVID is lifted for at least 60 days. As Governor of Florida, it is your responsibility to ensure that all Floridians have the ability to access any and all safety net programs. We stand ready to assist you in this endeavor.
Thank you for your consideration of these requests, we hope to continue to work with your office to resolve these complex problems that lie ahead.