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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Hitting the pause button

The budget will have to wait, for now.

Hitting the pause button

The Legislature has released the county allocations list counties for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

Gov. Ron DeSantis says he is leaving the budget unsigned for now. There is a strong chance that lawmakers will need to return for a Special Session to appropriate federal funding from the coronavirus stimulus package or trim the budget because of a shortfall of state revenue.

Most of the spending falls into K-12 education, higher education and transportation. Money’s also directed toward member’s pet priorities, such as museums, homeless prevention programs and playgrounds.

All counties received School Readiness and Voluntary PreKindergarten Program funding. The School Readiness Program is to help low-income children access to early childhood education. VPK is a free early education program.

Ron DeSantis is putting the budget on the back burner for now. Image via the Tallahassee Democrat.

K-12 schools are currently closed, but Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran says some early learning classes are still meeting in-person.

Broward County received more than $50 million in school readiness dollars and more than $40 million for VPK. Lawmakers are giving Hillsborough County $82.3 million in school readiness and VPK funding. And Orange County is expecting $76.2 million for early education.

The budget also includes money for public school workforce education. The Legislature earmarked nearly $26 million for Pinellas County, and Miami-Dade will get $80 million.

State colleges and universities also got some love from lawmakers, with universities getting the upper hand. The University of North Florida in Duval County was appropriated nearly $155 million, while the University of West Florida will receive almost $103 million.

The University of South Florida in Hillsborough County is set to receive $355 million and its medical center was awarded $133 million. In Leon County, lawmakers gave Florida A&M University $136.4 million and Florida State University $535.7 million.

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On the college side, Saint Petersburg College in Pinellas County expects to receive $59 million. Miami Dade College was allocated $147.6 million. Florida State College at Jacksonville in Duval gets $65 million.

Allocations were also directed toward economic development and infrastructure projects.

Space Florida is the aerospace economic development agency for the state of Florida. It was allocated $72 million for grants relating to passenger and cargo, facility improvements and infrastructure development.

Lawmakers directed $15 million to Jacksonville Port Authority for Blount Island Berth Improvements and $40.2 million for channel dredging. The Port of Miami Tunnel is receiving $44.2 million for intrastate highway construction.

Construction in Hillsborough on I-75 from State Route 93 A to the I-4 Exit Ramp is getting more than $91 million and construction on I-75 in Manatee County at the U.S. 301 Interchange will get backed with $144.1 million.

Some of House Speaker José Oliva’s priorities are included, such as $1 million for the Miami Military Museum and $1.5 million for the Bay of Pigs Museum.

Coronavirus numbers

As of Friday night at 5 p.m.:

Positive cases:

— 9,925 FL residents (+6,727 since March 27)

— 343 Non-FL residents (+199 since March 27)

Origin:

— 996 Travel related

— 1,690 Contact with a confirmed case

— 638 Both

— 6,601 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 1,334 in FL (+831 since March 27)

Deaths:

— 170 in FL (+125 since March 27)

___

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson and the staff of Florida Politics.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Take 5

Coronavirus crisis builds — A week ago, the public health disaster that is the coronavirus crisis already was looking terrifying, but with each passing day, the notion of public health terror only gets redefined. By Friday morning: Florida’s case total was heading to 10,000, and Miami’s had topped 3,000, both triple what they were a week earlier. While hospital beds and supplies were not strained, yet the upward slope of infections figures to have another month in it, based on projection models that this week predicted Florida might eventually see 170 deaths per day.

Lockdowns sweep state — DeSantis finally relented to mounting pressure to declare, Wednesday, a statewide stay-at-home order to go into effect Friday, following the leads of numerous counties and cities that had done so locally more than a week earlier. Yet criticism of DeSantis for coming later to that decision than most governors did not entirely wane. Instead, critics picked at loopholes in his orders that allow churches to still hold live services, for beaches to remain open, and for an extensive list of businesses to continue to operate as essential.

The economic picture looks worse — Federal reports on unemployment claims provided the astonishing revelation that Floridians filed more than 228,000 last week, more than tripling the all-time one-week record, which had been set just the week before. And that report likely was far lower than reality, for a variety of reasons, including a breakdown of the state’s reporting system. The view from the streets shows Florida’s tourism and hospitality industries virtually shut down entirely. A string of major hotels closed last week. Walt Disney World announced it would furlough workers sent home with pay and would probably not reopen before June 1.

Broken unemployment claims system — The literal and virtual collapse of Florida’s system for people to file for unemployment went from obvious to everyone trying to use it, to a problem state officials could no longer dismiss as glitches being exposed by massive overload. DeSantis and Department of Economic Opportunity Director Ken Lawson worked to overcome problems, first with rapid hiring, then with paper applications. On Thursday, state Republican Sen. Joe Gruters expressed his fury that $77 million in federal taxpayer money went into what is now an inoperable system. On Friday, WESH TV in Orlando reported that just 2% of calls to a call center are answered. Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz called for Lawson’s termination.

Cruise ships beg Florida for help — Any port in a storm? Not in the coronavirus storm, as cruise ships full of sick and dying people were turned away from one country after another until they arrived off Fort Lauderdale’s port, forcing a showdown the world watched. Despite concerns raised by DeSantis and others, a deal was struck Thursday to allow two voyages of the damned, two Holland America ships, to dock and for some passengers, including the sickest, to disembark. To the world, the images became this week’s spring break beach scenes, emblematic of the crisis. And more ships remain at sea, adrift and unwanted, including Carnival’s Coral Princess, which late Friday was being denied permission to come to Florida.

Papers, please

CareerSource Florida thanked DeSantis for his executive order allowing paper submissions for re-employment assistance during the coronavirus pandemic.

After the Department of Economic Opportunity was flooded with online applications, downing the site, the Governor directed state agencies and CareerSource Florida to help distribute and collect paper applications to return to DEO.

CareerSource Florida oversees a network of 24 local workforce development boards and 100 career centers.

The mass of unemployment claims online is forcing the DEO to turn to paper applications.

“With the unprecedented volume of Re-employment Assistance claims being filed as a result of COVID-19, we recognize the leadership of Gov. Ron DeSantis in directing all executive agencies to support the Department of Economic Opportunity in receiving and processing claims,” CareerSource Florida Board Chairman Kevin Doyle said.

“The statewide CareerSource Florida network is here to support the Governor’s order and assist Floridians in applying for assistance and supporting their families.”

The workforce policy and investment organization, operated by DEO, can evaluate skills, and connect those who have lost their jobs to hiring employers, according to CareerSource Florida President and CEO Michelle Dennard.

“In times of crisis, and as we enter recovery, please know each of Florida’s local workforce development boards, our CareerSource Florida network partners, are here for you,” she said.

The Governor signed Executive Order 20-93 Thursday evening.

Ag is essential

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried reiterated that food and agriculture workers provide an essential service as the state stay-at-home order began this week.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued an advisory of what services are considered essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. Agriculture is Florida’s second-largest industry and must still feed Americans even during an economic downturn.

Nikki Fried wants to make sure agriculture workers are classified as necessary.

“Florida’s farmers and ranchers put food on the tables of our neighbors across the state and nation,” she said in a statement. “That’s why agricultural producers and others in the agriculture industry can continue performing essential work during the state’s stay-at-home order.

Fried’s department is providing a proof of employment template for essential critical infrastructure workers and a COVID-19 safety guide to assist workers with travel and personal safety. Despite the department considering the food and agriculture industry an essential service, it is asking businesses to limit operations to those deemed essential.

“While we continue to work with federal officials and retailers to increase purchases of Florida-grown food products, we also thank state and local officials for working with the agriculture industry to keep our food supply chain strong, at a time when agriculture’s efforts are more important than ever,” Fried said.

DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is assisting state and local governments to identify essential services but encourages states to add or subtract services from the list when necessary.

Instagram of the week

e-Sign, seal, deliver

Politicians often demonstrate their viability by qualifying for the ballot by petition, a cost-effective process that shows populist credibility.

However, coronavirus’ assault on the Sunshine State has put the kibosh on events where those petitions could be secured.

New emergency rules signed off by Secretary of State Laurel Lee this week allows for some leniency in the petition process. Now, users can submit qualifying documents via email, rather than in person. Likewise, they will revise notary statements.

In the age of coronavirus, Secretary of State Laurel Lee is relaxing the requirements to make the ballot by petition.

“Permitting circulation and submission of qualifying items by means other than personal contact stops the spread of the virus, while otherwise maintaining the qualifying process for candidates and supporting the state’s important interests in the process as well,” Lee’s order contends.

Qualifying deadlines will not change. Qualifying paper checks are still required and must be delivered, either by mail or delivery service.

The order comes after repeated pleas from a bipartisan group of candidates asking to alter the qualification process for the coronavirus era.

The group of candidates, now at 42, has asked to waive ballot fees after previously calling for a change in deadlines to meet petition gathering requirements.

Their argument mirrored the Department of State’s logic in issuing Friday’s executive order: social distancing is paramount, but it also stymies choice at the ballot box since many down-ballot candidates cannot scrounge the funds to pay the ballot fee in lieu of qualifying by petition.

It costs about $1,800 to make the ballot by check for state legislative candidates. Congressional aspirants need to cough up more than $10,000.

Special Session?

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz says Florida should call a Special Session to address ongoing complications with the state’s unemployment application system.

Floridians say they have encountered myriad problems as they try to apply for benefits online in response to the ongoing effects of the novel coronavirus.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is calling for a Florida Special Session for the state’s unemployment system.

The Department of Economic Opportunity’s (DEO) website is buckling due to a surge in applications. Wasserman Schultz went so far as to accuse Florida’s ex-Governor of deliberately sabotaging the system.

“Our unemployment system in Florida is an absolute disaster,” she said. “Unfortunately, that was intentional. Rick Scott, our former Governor, basically destroyed the system so that he could improve his employment numbers.”

Though Wasserman Schultz alleged the problems began with Scott, she did not spare DeSantis.

“He’s been in office for a couple of years now. He could’ve started to get this fixed but just decided to leave it in place the way it was, which is unacceptable,” she said. “Now they’re having to shift to paper applications because they just don’t have the capacity on this website to even allow people to register.”

DEO Director Lawson said the agency would allow paper applications while applicants remain locked out from the site.

“They just don’t have enough personnel,” Wasserman Schultz said of DEO.

“Too many people are having to reset their pin and they can’t do that online. And unfortunately, at the moment, the benefits are not retroactive. So if you’ve been out of work for two weeks, let’s say, and you’re having trouble getting onto that website or applying to actually get yourself registered in the system, you won’t be able to get the unemployment benefits from the two weeks that you missed from trying to get registered in the first place, which is insane.”

Wasserman Schultz made the comments in a Facebook Live conversation with Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones. She wrapped her thoughts by calling on state lawmakers to act immediately.

“The Governor needs to call you back into Special Session and change things, particularly as it relates to coronavirus to get that fixed,” she told Jones.

Bill Day’s latest

It’s not so bad

Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley is not so worried about coronavirus whacking the state budget, either this year or next.

The Fleming Island Republican said it was “premature” to think about a Special Session, at least regarding state budget estimates.

“Certainly, the impact of coronavirus on our economy will affect tax revenues at all levels of government,” Bradley said. “Our state is well-positioned to handle this loss of revenue.”

Rob Bradley says talk of a Special Session for coronavirus is ‘premature.’

“We exceeded revenue projections in pre-coronavirus 2020, we have robust reserves, the Governor will reduce future spending with vetoes, and the federal stimulus package will be helpful.

“We don’t anticipate adjustments to the 19/20 budget. With the influx of federal dollars pursuant to the CARES Act,” Bradley added, “the 20/21 budget should not be significantly altered.”

State economists will offer more guidance, he added.

“Our sole focus as a state is defeating this virus and making sure Floridians get back to work,” Bradley said.

Fast action

Sen. Anitere Flores credits the quick action of Miami-Dade County and city officials in helping to curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Miami-Dade County has seen the highest number of positive cases of COVID-19, with the total topping 3,300. Mayor Carlos Giménez signed a safer-at-home order on March 26 requiring all individuals to stay at home except to engage in essential activities like grocery shopping or to address emergencies. DeSantis has since issued a statewide stay-at-home order.

Anitere Flores credits quick action by Miami-Dade in helping stem the spread of coronavirus.

Flores says she thinks it is helpful that a new county site will test people of all ages who are showing symptoms.

“People need to know what they have if they’re not feeling well,” she said. “It’s a little scary seeing those numbers, but those numbers give us the information that as elective leaders need to be able to make preparations.”

Flores says politically, DeSantis’ close relationship with the President has benefited the state when it comes to requesting personal protective equipment, test kits and ventilators.

She says that the hospitals have what they need right now but must restock regularly to continue servicing patients.

With school closures extended through April, Flores is just one of many, many parents in Florida splitting her time between working from home and helping her kids with distance learning. She says Miami-Dade has been ahead of the curve in terms of preparation when the school closures were initially announced.

Flores says while her two boys have been having face-face video meetings with their teacher, she is concerned that it is not happening for all students. She heard that in some districts, teachers are just giving out packets for students to print out and work on at home.

“I don’t think that that’s terribly effective,” she said. “Again, that’s anecdotal. I’m trying to figure out, is that really happening or was that just a frustrated parent that posted something on Twitter.”

She says the technology exists for kids to really excel and the coronavirus outbreak has forced everyone into this educational laboratory experiment. An optimist, she believes Florida families will come out of this stronger than before.

Wagon warning

Sen. Darryl Rouson is not just concerned about Floridians’ physical health during the novel coronavirus outbreak. He is also worried about their mental health and sobriety.

His district includes Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. He is based in St. Petersburg. Hillsborough has more than 450 positive COVID-19 cases and Pinellas has more than 300.

Rouson celebrated 22 years in recovery March 17 and for the first time, he was unable to go to a physical support group meeting to get his medallion documenting his achievement.

Darryl Rouson is concerned his constituents are not practicing good habits in the coronavirus epidemic.

“My home group awarded me my medallion through virtual until we can meet again, and I can get it and receive a hug,” he said.

Rouson says recovering addicts are a vulnerable population. Support meetings have shifted online because of social distancing guidelines. That means people are not getting physical means of support like hugs that would be normal in a group setting. He says treatment facilities are expecting an increase in relapses due to the pandemic.

“I’ve heard from recovering addicts who say how difficult it is to be insolation, to be at home,” he said. “The pull to drink and drug, to numb one’s self against the anxiety and the fears that’s happening in the general population, it’s heightened among the treatment population.”

Rouson says people in recovery are calling other group members, their sponsors, members of their church and rereading the 12 steps to maintain their sobriety.

“And we can’t forget about mental health,” he said. “It is as important as physical health. And mental health will sometimes impact physical health.”

Rouson says he and his wife recently went for a 20-mile bike ride through downtown St. Pete and the North Shore beach area. He says the sidewalks were crowded and people were not adhering to social distancing guidelines. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has warned residents that if they are not following social distancing guidelines, law enforcement officers will ticket them.

Bonus Instagram of the week

Palpable frustration

Orlando Rep. Anna Eskamani says there is a demand for more testing in Central Florida.

Orange County has more than 600 positive cases of the novel coronavirus, also called COVID-19. Cases across the state have continued to rise, as has the number of deaths.

Eskamani says they have had several virtual town halls with community partners, including small businesses and nonprofit groups, to educate them on the federal relief package Congress recently passed.

Anna Eskamani demands more coronavirus testing.

“I’m sensing a lot of moving forward from small businesses,” she said. “Looking toward these programs for support and a sense of hope there.”

But she is not seeing a lot of relief for everyday families trying to file for unemployment benefits. Although the federal COVID-19 legislation gives unemployment beneficiaries another $600 on top of Florida’s low weekly amount of $275, many people say they are frustrated to navigate the Department of Economic Opportunity’s struggling website.

“The frustration is palpable,” Eskamani said. “And it boils down to a terrible, awful website that has had a history of never serving the public well, alongside no one on the other end of the phone when people call DEO. Just horrendous, horrendous consumer service.”

She says that people lucky enough to succeed in filing a claim are then having trouble checking on their claim. Many people are anecdotally reporting problems resetting their PINs and verifying their identities. Some Floridians who do not qualify under state criteria do under the federal stimulus package but are reporting problems filing claims.

Eskamani says she is also hearing from college students asking for help on rent payments. Some landlords are being more accommodating during this pandemic than others, she says.

Some off-campus housing at the University of Central Florida will not let students end their leases even though the school has closed, with students told to return home.

“They either have to sublease or pay rent when they’re not living there and it’s impossible to sublease right now because no one needs to stay by campus,” she said.

With Session done, some may think lawmakers are enjoying some downtime. But Eskamani says she and others are actively fielding questions and concerns from their constituents every day.

Guidance needed

Tallahassee Democratic Reps. Ramon Alexander and Loranne Ausley called on DeSantis to issue an executive order clarifying which state employees should stay home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Previously, he has asked state agencies to close offices and branches when possible. But he has left that discretion, and specifically which employees are essential to work from the office, up to individual agencies.

Ramon Alexander and Loranne Ausley seek clarification as to which state employees need to stay home.

“In the past several weeks, while you have asked, and in some cases required, people to stay at home, your own employees have not received a clear directive from your office,” they wrote.

Florida has nearly 100,000 state employees, the largest concentration of whom live and work in the two lawmakers’ districts, which encompass the capital city.

Some state employees have complained that they are not allowed to work home when they would like to.

Alexander and Ausley asked that agencies enforce social distancing and supply the necessary equipment, including soap and hand sanitizer, to keep state employees safe if they must work from the office.

“Thank you, Rep. Ausley and Rep. Alexander for always advocating for State employees,” said AFSCME Florida President Vicki Hall in a statement to Florida Politics. “With each day that passes the confusion within the state workforce grows — we too look forward to receiving clarity from the Governor.”

Helping homeless

Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen says she hears a lot of frustration from constituents in her district.

She represents Floridians in Lee County, which has a high mortality rate from the novel coronavirus. More than 300 residents have tested positive and 11 people so far have died.

Fitzenhagen says they are upset about the continued large gatherings, despite the social distancing guidelines, and the difficulty in applying for unemployment and small business loans.

Heather Fitzenhagen is hearing frustration among her constituents about continued large gatherings and difficulty getting unemployment.

“People are very concerned and fearful,” she said.

Fitzenhagen says she was the only elected official to her knowledge who was calling for a stay-at-home order for the county before DeSantis issued a statewide order earlier in the week.

She says much of her time this week was spent trying to help the homeless population in her area. They are congregating because they have nowhere to isolate.

“I’m trying to figure how, for everyone’s benefit, to help the homeless people to find a safe haven to isolate during this crisis,” Fitzenhagen said.

The area shelters are exceedingly small, and the need so great, she says those shelters are already overcapacity.

Fitzenhagen says she is trying to see if she can get them moved into empty hotel rooms, classrooms or stadiums.

“I’m just trying to see which (ideas) are the easiest and most effective to execute,” she said.

She is concerned that because they are homeless, it is difficult for them to gain easy access to soap and hand sanitizer.

In Lee County, like in other areas of the state, people need a prescription test for COVID-19. But someone who is homeless is unlikely to have a primary care doctor. So, it is unclear if any are currently sick with the novel coronavirus.

“Given that this has impacted every sector of our society, it must be impacting them as well,” Fitzenhagen said.

Promising pilot

There are nearly 100,000 homeless school children in the state. In many cases, the lack of a stable living situation keeps them from going to school regularly.

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation, or Florida Housing, has been looking into ways to address the problem with a pilot project in Santa Rosa County, so in 2018 it teamed up with the county school district, Opening Doors Northwest Florida, Milton Housing Authority, and Family Promise to launch the Homeless Schoolchildren Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Pilot Program.

Florida Housing Finance Corporation head Trey Price is looking to address the problem of homeless students.

TBRA connects eligible families in Santa Rosa County with one year of rental assistance and case management support. It also provides academic support for students and community-based supportive services to help their families maintain stability and self-sufficiency.

Florida Housing says it was a success — the number of homeless schoolchildren in the county dropped from 1,033 to 656; 98% of kids in the program advanced to their next grade level; and regular attendance went up 11%.

“The TBRA Pilot Program is the first of its kind in Florida that works to provide financial and housing relief to homeless families, while also emphasizing the importance of childhood education,” said Trey Price, Executive Director of Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

“Florida Housing, along with our partners at the Department of Education and in the local Santa Rosa County community, are proud to release successful findings from the first year of the program’s launch.”

Dr. Karen Barber, Director of Federal Programs with Santa Rosa County School District, added, “This grant from Florida Housing has allowed us to increase our community’s awareness and demonstrate that homelessness is a significant issue in the state of Florida.

“Now, even more so in light of the recent global pandemic, there will be an increased need for housing across the state as more families experience economic setbacks and we cannot let this impact their children’s need for a strong education. We hope this pilot program in Santa Rosa County inspires other communities to begin similar initiatives in their area.”

Next up: Hernando County.

Devastation detailed

There have been nearly 10 million jobless claims across the country over the past two weeks. If that has not made it clear the economy is hemorrhaging, a new report from the National Federation of Independent Business drives the point home.

The NFIB Research Center surveyed small businesses and found 92% of them have been negatively impacted by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, up from 76% 10 days earlier.

The effects are wide-ranging: 80% of small employers report slower sales, 31% are experiencing supply chain disruptions and 23% report concerns over sick employees.

Coronavirus has ravaged Florida’s economy.  

The upshot is minimal and expected to be temporary.

Just 3% of NFIB’s respondents positively impacted, but NFIB said those businesses — benefiting from a mountainous rise in demand for certain goods and services, such as deliveries — will likely wane in the coming weeks as consumers grow confident that they’ve stockpiled enough supplies.

State-specific data is unavailable, but Bill Herrle, NFIB’s executive director for Florida, said, “Our members thank Gov. DeSantis for taking the impact the COVID-19 response would have on Florida’s small businesses into consideration.

“Our members are following CDC guidelines to keep their employees and customers safe. Their focus now is getting everything in order so they can apply for the federal financial assistance they need so they can get through this.”

Anti-trafficking cash available

The Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) has made more than $65 million in grants available to combat human trafficking nationwide this year.

Larry Keefe, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, encouraged communities across his district to apply for a portion of the grants.

Larry Keefe is encouraging applications for human trafficking grants. Image via the Tallahassee Democrat.

“The Department of Justice is front and center in the fight against this insidious crime,” Keefe said in a statement. “OJP is making historic amounts of grant funding available to ensure that our communities have access to innovative and diverse solutions.”

In addition to human trafficking prevention and recovery programs, the OJP, led by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katharine Sullivan, supports a variety of activities and services of law enforcement agencies nationwide. That support includes inmate protection and cold case investigation programs.

“Our nation is facing difficult challenges, none more pressing than the scourge of human trafficking,” Sullivan said. “Human traffickers pose a dire threat to public safety and countering this threat remains one of the administration’s top domestic priorities.”

While at least nine funding opportunities to combat human trafficking are currently available, several more will open soon.

The extended deadline to apply for a portion of the $1.8 million Missing and Exploited Children Training and Technical Assistance Program is Monday. Other grants, including the $22 million available from the Multidisciplinary Task Force Program to Combat Human Trafficking, will still accept applications.

Hearts and Hands

The Florida Health Care Association is celebrating a new state-approved program that will help nurses spend more time using their professional skills and less on attending to the personal needs of nursing home residents.

The Florida Hearts & Hands Program, recently approved by the Agency for Health Care Administration, allows for a new position code at nursing homes: Personal Care Attendants.

The workers will make beds, check temperatures, make sure residents have fresh ice water, transfer them to wheelchairs, help them dress or use the bathroom, and provide bed baths.

FHCA’s Emmett Reed is touting a pilot program that creates a new nursing home position — Personal Care Attendants. 

Better yet, FHCA launched a recruiting effort targeting many of the service and hospitality industry workers who lost their jobs due to the economic devastation wrought by the new coronavirus.

“This program really is a win-win for Florida, addressing critical staff shortages during a time of tremendous need at nursing homes while creating new job opportunities for individuals who find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own,” said FHCA Executive Director Emmett Reed. “We’ll provide the necessary training, and in short order these new Personal Care Attendants can be helping older residents in their daily routines.”

It is a trial run for now — AHCA only approved the program through May 1 — but it could be extended if necessary. The goal of the program, FHCA said, is to encourage individuals serving in these positions to consider career advancement in the long term care profession beyond the current emergency.

“The Agency for Health Care Administration has a clear and determined focus on ensuring the safety and welfare of Florida’s senior population in nursing homes, especially during the COVID-19 public health emergency,” said AHCA Secretary Mary Mayhew. “As workforce shortages may occur, creating this training pathway will allow long-term care facilities to hire essential staff to provide crucial support so residents can continue to receive quality care across our state.”

Another benefit during the era of social distancing: facilitating some much-needed facetime for Florida seniors.

“The individuals we hire into the Florida Hearts & Hands Program will be true heroes, helping our overburdened staff while making a direct impact on the lives of residents — helping calm their fears, holding their hands through the tough times, sharing their stories,” Reed said.

Building BRIDGs

Florida TaxWatch released its latest report on the impact of advanced manufacturing, highlighting a Central Florida next-generation manufacturing company.

The report analyzed the role of high-tech manufacturing initiatives like BRIDG, based in Osceola County’s NeoCity, to diversify the economy, create jobs, raise wages and increase tax revenue. Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro pointed to BRIDG as an example of a continued investment the state should renew to maintain a competitive edge.

Osceola County’s NeoCity will be home to a next-generation manufacturing firm. 

“Even through our nation’s most trying times, we’ve seen that American innovation and ingenuity perseveres through manufacturing,” Calabro said. “Today, as we all fight through the Coronavirus pandemic, we know that it will again be manufacturers that pull our state and nation forward and the report we’ve released today shows just how important this industry truly is in Florida.

The Legislature invested $5 million in the company, led by Interim CEO Brian Sapp, in its proposed 2020-2021 budget. Bridge is a nonprofit public-private partnership for microelectronics research, development and production.

“Diversifying Central Florida’s economy through the creation of high skill and high wage jobs in the fields of microelectronics and advanced manufacturing is a key factor in the effort to secure the economic vitality of our state and nation,” Sapp said.

According to the Department of Economic Opportunity, more than 20,000 manufacturing companies provide more than 381,000 Floridians with high-wage jobs.

Essential fishing

The statewide safe-at-home order went into effect yesterday, and it is blocking a lot of activities to help flatten the curve of new coronavirus infections.

There are some exceptions. Floridians can still get food and other necessities from the grocery store, care for their friends or loved ones that live with them and attend church services.

Sportfishing gets a carve-out in the coronavirus stay-at-home order.

There is a fun carve-out, too: fishing.

Similar to other recreational activities, such as jogging or swimming, the order allows Floridians to cast a line so long as they abide by social distancing rules, such as keeping six-feet apart from others and not congregating in groups of 10 or more.

Keep Florida Fishing, an advocacy arm of the American Sportfishing Association, thanked the Governor for allowing the sport to continue in the coronavirus era.

“On behalf of Florida’s more than 4 million anglers, we couldn’t agree more that now is the time to get outside and fish while practicing social distancing on the state’s beautiful waters. We thank Gov. DeSantis for including these activities and implore Floridians to please practice safe, social distancing to keep Florida fishing,” Keep Florida Fishing Director Gary Jennings said.

The American Sportfishing Association said it will do its part to encourage anglers to adhere to the fine print through a social media campaign encouraging them to practice #ResponsibleRecreation activities across the country.

Instructions to recreate local, be safe, be prepared, and to enjoy the outdoors responsibly will be promoted throughout the next 30 days and beyond, ASA said.

“The American Sportfishing Association is proud to promote #ResponsibleRecreation here in Florida to ensure anglers practice social distancing and remain safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kellie Ralston, Southeast Fisheries Policy Director at the American Sportfishing Association.

“Floridians should take advantage of this time to secure a fishing license, check local access points, teach family members best fishing practices, and enjoy some quality time with a few friends and family members.”

Capitol Directions

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Email: Peter@FloridaPolitics.com
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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