TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida hasn’t yet received its chunk of cash from the federal coronavirus stimulus bill that recently passed but Gov. Ron DeSantis already has ideas on how to spend the money.
He expects that the Sunshine State will receive between $9 billion and $10 billion from the American Rescue Plan, which he said is less than he would have liked.
“Florida’s policies have been more effective and yet with the advent of the federal stimulus bill, we are getting comparatively less money than our population because our unemployment is lower and a lot of those states that have much higher unemployment are getting much, much -- billions and billions of dollars more,” DeSantis said.
The state is still waiting on federal guidelines that will likely stipulate how the money is spent. It’s also unknown when and how the money will be distributed.
With potential limitations in mind, DeSantis outlined how he’d like $4.1 billion from the American Rescue Plan to be spent. He said the remaining $6 billion or so will be “left up to the legislative discretion.”
Below is the list of measures DeSantis provided during a news conference in Tallahassee on Tuesday along with a quote from the governor about each one.
- $208.4 million to provide first responders with $1,000 bonuses: “We know that the pandemic put an awful lot of strain on our first responders, EMTs, sworn law enforcement, firefighters and so we believe that we should recognize their sacrifice over the last year.”
- $73.2 million to upgrade Connect, the system used to apply for unemployment benefits: “We also understand there’s a need to address some of the infrastructure in our own agencies, including the Connect reemployment system. There was recently a report, as many of you know, recommending money to modernize it so I’m recommending $73.2 million to modernize the Connect reemployment assistance program consistent with those findings.”
- $56.6 million for the reemployment assistance program: “I’m also recommend recommending the provision of $56.6 million to support the operations of the reemployment assistance program to accommodate increased volume and manage the adjudication of claims, particularly when you have disputed claims.”
- $72 million for the creation of a behavioral health management system: “This funding would provide for the development of an integrated behavioral health data management system that will streamline access to behavioral health services. The system will have the capability of identifying each individual who’s receiving services across multiple systems of care and better integrate those individuals into the services provided across programs and ultimately multiple departments, we want to break down the silos as best we can.”
- $258.2 million for Florida seaports: “One of the areas of Florida that’s been hardest hit throughout the pandemic has been our seaports and we have 4.8% unemployment but our cruise ships are under a no sail order from the CDC. I wanted them to start sailing long ago. I think they should be able to sail and we want to see them sail but nevertheless that’s taken an enormous amount of toll on our seaports and yet, in all these different relief packages, there hasn’t been any money set aside for any of the seaports.” He added that the $258.2 million figure is equal to the amount of losses incurred through February.
- $150 million for the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund: “We believe there’ll be ways to apply this to help with workforce skills, as well as infrastructure investments in key areas and I think it’ll be really, really good so that’ll be in addition to what we requested in our normal budget.”
- $50 million for Visit Florida operations and marketing efforts: “Now our hospitality industry has been hit very hard, although they’ve been able to weather it better than I think initially forecasted largely because we’ve been open for business and parts of the state have done very well, other parts have struggled and are doing better but are still not close to where they were.”
- $50 million for Florida’s Road Fund: “This Road Fund allows the (Department of Transportation) to work with Enterprise Florida and local governments in addressing transportation infrastructure problems, which may adversely affect the decision of employers to locate, expand or remain in the state of Florida. Funding will bring back the program as one of the state’s economic programs used to recruit new business and expand current businesses throughout Florida.”
- $1 billion for infrastructure resiliency readiness: “This funding will build on the initial recommendation, enabling the resilient Florida program to provide more than $2 billion in projects over the next four years. I think that’ll make a huge impact when you’re talking about building infrastructure and promoting resiliency.”
- $41.7 million to the Florida National Guard: “They’ve been providing emergency response efforts in unprecedented volumes throughout the pandemic, responding to natural disasters, which of course we’ve had some, as well as potential civil unrest and we may have more of that and they will be ready for that. Our National Guard has been activated for over a year in a variety of different ways and as our population continues to grow and emergency response needs become more frequent, it is essential to continue to grow the number of service members available for response efforts.” He estimates that 450 additional service members could be hired.
- $1 billion to establish a new emergency management response fund: “The fund will eliminate the need to seek general revenue funding to respond to ongoing pandemic emergencies, as well as future emergencies. The newly established fund will add an additional layer reserved to the state’s overall fiscal outlook. And so what will happen is if there’s a hurricane, you incur expenses, you pay out of that fund and then FEMA would reimburse to that fund. Ideally we would never have to touch general revenue again to respond to natural disasters, if we’re able to establish this fund right now.”
- $938.4 million to fund the DOT work program: “This funding returns the work program to pre-pandemic estimates for the fiscal year and enables projects that were deferred or delayed to be brought back online, getting money out the door and putting people to work.”
- $60 million for the Workforce Development Capitalization Incentive Grant Program: “These grants will help our school district technical centers and Florida College System institutions focus on high-performing, high-demand workforce development programs. Public technical centers and colleges will compete for grant funds, which may be used to purchase instructional equipment, lab equipment, supplies and other non-recurring costs associated with creating or expanding workforce development programs. The State Board of (Education) will prioritize grant awards on programs that train people to enter high-skill, high-wage occupations, identified by the Department of Education in consultation with the Department of Economic Opportunity.”
- $125 million to create a new program within the Department of Economic Opportunity: “The Florida Leads in Education and Employment Training Grant Program fleet will provide work-based learning opportunities for students to engage in on-the-job training while earning meaningful credentials, and the goal is to do this apart from federal apprenticeship restrictions or regulations. This (will) be our baby, that we go forward looking to get young people into the workforce in pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship-type programs and I think that that’s something that we have had some momentum on. I think this can continue to move that forward.”
- $10 million for the Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program: “I think what this showed is when you have people that had to social distance or isolate who are elderly, particularly people that have dementia or Alzheimer’s who need to have those caretakers there, it really, really did, I think, a huge psychological and emotional toll on a lot of people. Now we are somebody, because of our vulnerability and the prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer’s here in Florida, it’s been something that my administration has been working on. We believe that this is an opportunity to support additional advancement in Alzheimer’s research.”
DeSantis cautioned that right now the plans are preliminary until the federal government provides more details on how the American Rescue Plan money can be spent.
“Part of what is going to be determined is what was your revenue loss, the way they’re calculating the revenue loss. We’re not sure how much Florida would qualify or not, we’re going to be going through those numbers, we’re going to have to look at the guidance that comes out, which should probably take a couple more weeks, and then look to also see what the disbursement schedule is for this.”
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