While Mother’s Day celebrations will be different for many this year, a new survey suggests the holiday may be more meaningful now than ever before.
According to data gathered by the National Retail Federation, consumers are planning to spend more on Mother’s Day this year than in years past despite the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, consumers intend to spend roughly $205 on meals and gifts, $8 more than the previous year.
“Mothers have taken on so many additional responsibilities this year. In these uncertain times, it’s no surprise to me that Floridians want to show their love and appreciation for their mom,” said Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation.
The survey revealed that consumers are looking to purchase gifts that lean more toward the sentimental than the lavish. When asked, 43% percent said they are searching for a unique gift, and another 41% said they are looking for a gift that would create a special memory.
Many of the gift ideas are items that can be used while at home, including houseware, garden tools, electronics and books.
For mothers with children under 25, the news gets better. The age bracket will spend $39 more this year than last. The 35- to 44-year-old demographic said they’ll spend more, too.
It is no secret that social distancing will impact mom’s special day; the survey just quantifies it. NRF found 71% of consumers are concerned about their health and finances and are actively practicing social distancing. Another two-thirds are planning to celebrate Mother’s Day online.
As health concerns persist, the National Retail Federation said Florida retailers — save for those in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties — are making strides to ensure customers can grab what they need safely.
“Whether you’re planning to send a special card, deliver a meal or shower her with a gift, I hope you choose to support Florida retail,” Shalley said. “In doing so, you’ll find a great tribute to your mom while also supporting Florida’s local businesses.”
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.
— 38,172 FL residents (+4,343 since May 1)
—1,027 Non-FL residents (+128 since May 1)
— 1,860 Travel related
— 15,658 Contact with a confirmed case
— 1,701 Both
— 18,953 Under investigation
— 6,929 in FL
— 1,669 in FL
As of May 7
Claims submitted: 1,920,157
— Confirmed unique claims: 1,235,365 (+274,955 since April 30)
— Claims processed: 829,771 (+136,004 since April 30)
— Claims paid: 494,944 (+68,321 since April 30)
Total paid out: $1.18 billion (+$419.2 million since April 30)
— State money: $471,484,825
— Federal money: $712,560,088
The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Reopening of Florida commences — Phase One of a reopening of nonessential businesses in Florida kicked off Monday, as Gov. Ron DeSantis’ prior statewide stay-at-home order lifted. That means restaurants and retailers opened across the state, with a limit of 25% customer capacities. Destinations in Florida from The Florida Aquarium to Downtown Disney also announced plans for their own reopening in the coming weeks. DeSantis left in place lockdown orders for Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. But Friday, he said Palm Beach could join in Phase One beginning May 11. The Governor continued to do national press celebrating Florida’s data-driven approach.
Unemployment investigation announced — Withering criticism continued to surround the Department of Economic Opportunity’s beleaguered unemployment claim process, particularly a website still causing problems. Gov. DeSantis ordered an Inspector General investigation of the CONNECT site, which was part of a $77 million overhaul of Florida’s unemployment process that many critics say was designed to fail. DeSantis has mostly pinned the blame for system shortcomings on the past administration of Gov. Rick Scott. Democrats have criticized DeSantis for ignoring audits identifying problems until the coronavirus crisis struck the state. The Governor’s move came a day after Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried also called for an investigation.
Vacation Rental ban challenged — Property owners and a rental management company filed a federal suit looking to overturn a March 27 executive order blocking people from renting vacation properties during the ongoing public health emergency, even as hotels, motels, inns, resorts, and timeshare facilities can stay open. The lawsuit “seeks to protect and vindicate fundamental liberties that citizens of the United States enjoy free from government interference.” DeSantis said the vacation-rental ban was necessary to discourage people from other states, such as COVID-19 “hot spots” Louisiana and New York, from traveling to the Sunshine State and spreading the highly contagious disease.
Special Session call rejected — Democratic lawmakers failed to convene a Special Legislative Session to address the effects of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the state. Ultimately, 18 Senators and 51 House members voted against the calls for a Special Session, according to the Department of State, while just 16 Senators and 48 House members voted in favor. It takes 60% support in each Chamber to force the Legislature to reconvene. The 2020 Session ended in mid-March as Florida had only seen its first COVID-19 case publicly identified. Leadership has suggested no Session would be needed as Florida’s budget boasts healthy reserves.
Gun group sues over weapons permits — Agriculture Commissioner Fried faces her own legal threat from Young Americans for Liberty, a gun-rights group who filed a lawsuit in hopes of lifting a suspension of online concealed weapons permit applications. Fried said the process could not be adequately conducted online because of an inability to collect fingerprints required for background checks on new applications. Her office has continued to provide more than 54,000 permits since March. But shutting down online applications has drawn criticism from Attorney General Ashley Moody and the National Rifle Association. YAL leadership accused Fried of exploiting the pandemic to further an anti-gun agenda.
Housing relief inbound
DeSantis and the Florida Housing Finance Corporation announced Thursday they would distribute $5 million to provide additional housing assistance for Floridians impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My administration continues to take bold steps in ensuring families in Florida have the housing resources needed in these uncertain times,” DeSantis said. “Families can take comfort knowing the additional funding to local government housing offices will be quickly distributed to help keep a roof over Floridian’s heads.”
The additional $5 million comes from withheld funds appropriated for disaster recovery in the fiscal year.
According to a news release, the aid will be delivered through the State Housing Initiatives Partnership, a fund that incentives local governments to develop affordable housing through private partnerships.
“During these turbulent times, Gov. DeSantis and Florida Housing remain committed to helping Floridians with homeownership and rental assistance with this much-needed allocation,” said Trey Price, Executive Director for Florida Housing. “Because COVID-19 has impacted Florida as a whole, Florida Housing has accelerated this release of available disaster recovery funds to eligible SHIP counties and cities.”
According to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, SHIP dollars can be used in a variety of ways, including new construction, rehabilitation and emergency repairs. It can also be used for a down payment and closing cost assistance.
While local housing programs such as SHIP are available in all 67 counties and some of Florida’s larger cities, full funding for the program only returned this year for the first time in 13 years.
Funding for the SHIP program began in 1992 with the passage of the William E. Sadowski Affordable Housing Act.
Attorney GeneralMoody and Uber are joining hands to provide free rides to help survivors of domestic violence escape abuse.
As reports of domestic violence increase in Orange, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, the partnership will provide free Uber rides for people escaping to domestic violence shelters in those counties.
“Victims of domestic violence need to know that help is still available, and there are people who care deeply about their health and safety,” Moody said. “Victims do not have to stay isolated with their abusers. Domestic violence shelters remain open around the state, and through this new program with Uber, I am hopeful that we can connect more victims with the shelter and lifesaving services they need to escape abuse and begin the healing process.”
In April, Moody issued an alert to Floridians as a reminder that domestic violence shelters and victim services remain open across the state. This week, she expressed concern that victims may still not be aware of the services.
The fear was shared by Uber Senior Public Policy Manager Stephanie Smith.
“As the coronavirus continues to impact Florida communities, current safer-at-home guidelines may prove challenging for some of our most vulnerable citizens, including victims of domestic violence,” Smith said. “That is why Uber is proud to work with Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody in providing free rides to domestic violence shelters. We want to do our part to ensure that those faced with limited or no transportation options have access to supportive spaces where they can remain safe through this public health crisis.”
In addition to its partnership with Florida, Uber is working with domestic violence shelters and local governments in 35 countries to provide free meals and rides to shelters.
Agriculture Commissioner Fried named the winners of the inaugural Florida Agriculture History Award essay contest this week.
The essay competition, set up in late 2019, asked elementary, middle and high school students to write about the impact women, African Americans or Hispanic leaders have had on Florida Agriculture.
The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services received 124 essays during the Nov. 1 through Jan. 10 submission window. There were nine winners in all — one elementary, middle and high school winners for each category.
To see a video describing the competition, click on the image below:
The Agricultural History Award Competition was open to all students attending any Florida school in grades 4-12.
“As one of our state’s oldest and proudest industries, Florida agriculture has seen incredible progress through the dedication of individuals we don’t often encounter in history books,” Fried said.
“Congratulations to the inaugural winners of the Agriculture History Award essay contest, and thank you to all who participated. Together, we’re honoring the rich history and the many contributions that women, African American, and Latinx figures continue to make to the great state of Florida.”
Each winner received a $1,000 Florida Prepaid 529 Scholarship, courtesy of Fresh From Florida. The winners’ list is available on the FDACS website.
On Friday, Fried called on farmers to help the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study the impact the new coronavirus has had on their bottom line.
UF-IFAS is accepting survey responses from agriculture and aquaculture businesses through the end of next week. The research encompasses agricultural production, processing and transportation and several marine sectors.
The data will guide government efforts to help those businesses bounce back after the pandemic.
“This unprecedented pandemic is taking a toll on Florida’s agriculture community and we need detailed, accurate information to effectively inform recovery efforts,” Fried said.
“The University of Florida’s IFAS study will highlight COVID-19’s impact and will help our local, state, and federal government take action to support our state’s agriculture and aquaculture businesses. I’m encouraging all of our farmers, ranchers, and aquaculturists to take part in this important survey.”
The surveys come during an economically devastating time for Florida growers. A recent report produced by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services estimates crop losses have already surpassed $500 million this year due to buyers drying up during the pandemic.
Green beans alone account for a tenth of the losses. The pandemic has caused prices to crater from around $17 a box down to $7 — a 60% drop. Zucchini, squash, cabbage and pepper crops are also suffering, and the year’s cucumber harvest may be noted as a total loss.
Instagram of the Week
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Well @johnkrasinski here’s some good news, my husband, Jared who is the Director of Emergency Management for the state of FL, has been in Tallahassee since the first week in March without a single day off and had previously only been home twice – both times for less than 24 hours. Well this past weekend he was finally able to come home (albeit with his phone attached to him at all times 🙄) so we celebrated!! With the help of our incredible friends, family, and community we surprised him with a welcome home parade that left both he and even myself, blown away! The incredible turnout included visits from @browardsheriffsoffice, @coralspringsfd, elected officials and so many loved ones and I want to thank each and every one of you for helping pull off such a fun surprise! He may not be grinning like an idiot ear to ear like me, but I assure you he was truly touched and appreciated everyone’s honks, signs, and gifts. I’m sure it all made him leaving only hours afterwards suck a little less for both he and our boys ❤️ 📷: @heatherholtphoto #somegoodnews #welcomehome #covid19 #corona #fdem #sayfie #flapol #staysafe
Ease the transition
Over $300,000 in grants are heading 44 public schools, nonprofit organizations, and public school districts in Florida to help ease the transition to distance learning for students and teachers.
The grants, which will primarily serve students from low-income families, were provided by the Florida Education Foundation and the Direct Support Organization for the Florida Department of Education. Several private entities, including CVS Health, Wells Fargo, and AT&T also chipped in.
“Our focus is to keep Florida students healthy and safe while maintaining a sense of normalcy as we navigate COVID-19 together. Distance learning provides students that normalcy and ensures student success is and always will be, our first priority,” Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said.
“Providing our families and educators with the tools they need guarantees every student has the opportunity to succeed. We are extremely thankful to have our dedicated partners join us in this effort.”
Coined as the Distance Learning Innovation Mini-Grant Program, the grants are intended to help create innovative solutions for distance learning, which became the norm for all Florida students in mid-March.
“Innovation and collaboration are two factors that play key roles in ensuring student success during this pandemic,” said Florida Education Foundation Chairman Charles Hokanson. “With the Distance Learning Innovation Mini-Grant program, we can identify solutions to challenges and provide essential resources to our learning communities promptly.”
Schools where a majority of students participate in the free or reduced-price lunch programs were given priority for grant funding.
The Florida Department of Elder Affairs announced Thursday it would provide 2,000 Scent Preservation Kits to help track down Alzheimer’s patients who wander away from home.
The move comes as one of the latest initiatives from DeSantis’ “Safer at Home” plan and is made possible through a partnership with Scent Evidence K-9, a Tallahassee-based international provider.
The kits, which serve as a proactive safety measure, can help law enforcement locate older adults with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia who are at risk of wandering and becoming lost.
“These Scent Preservation Kits will assist families and help prevent at-risk individuals from becoming a missing person,” said Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom. “They allow families and caregivers to be prepared before an at-risk individual goes missing, and the kits improve the response time if someone does go wandering.”
The department said the kits will feature special packaging and will be sent alongside a letter from Prudom listing other assistance options.
DOEA is also working with Florida clinics and state agencies to identify those at-risk individuals so they can deliver the kits where they are needed most.
“We call our kits, ‘Peace of Mind in a Jar,'” said Scent Evidence K-9 CEO Paul Coley. “As a former FBI Forensic Canine Operations Specialist and canine handler, I was constantly faced with the challenge of finding an effective scent article during active searches.”
The Tallahassee-based company has partnered with The Alzheimer’s Association, the Dementia Care and Cure Initiative Task Force, and law enforcement agencies domestic and abroad to raise awareness on populations with a high risk of wandering.
Meals for wheels
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, truckers have been driving the state as essential workers. This week, state agencies offered free lunches to truck drivers
The Department of Transportation (FDOT), the Highway Patrol (FHP) and the Florida Trucking Association (FTA) partnered to provide meals sponsored by the association, Chick-fil-A, Publix, and Walmart Transportation. The group distributed 500 meals to truckers Thursday at a Southbound Interstate-75 rest stop near Ocala.
“These individuals are on the front lines each day providing vital goods to Floridians during this unprecedented time — keeping shelves stocked, medicine delivered, and supplies directed to those most in need,” FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault said. “Their selflessness is inspiring, and the department is committed to continuing to support their needs as they serve others.”
There are approximately 38,000 trucking companies in the state of Florida, and one in 21 jobs in Florida is in the trucking industry.
“We are always proud of what our member companies and their drivers do every day of the year,” FTA President Ken Armstrong said. “Their patriotism and pride in the profession shines brightly during this time, as all Floridians become more aware of the vital role these men and women play in our daily lives. We thank FDOT for joining us today to recognize their work.”
“Our truck drivers are on the front line every day delivering much-needed supplies to our communities, and we greatly appreciate their dedication and professionalism,” FHP Director Col. Gene Spaulding.
Panhandle Representatives banded together in a letter to DeSantis, asking that he allow vacation rentals to open in the region fully amid the fight against COVID-19.
In March, the Governor suspended short-term vacation rentals, offered through apps like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway, tying those rentals to out-of-state COVID-19 spreaders. But those rentals are a significant portion of the Panhandle’s tourist economy.
Reps. Alex Andrade, Brad Drake, Mike Hill, Mel Ponder, Jason Shoaf, Jay Trumbull and Jayer Williamson, all Republicans, penned the letter Thursday night asking DeSantis to take a regional approach to the vacation rental ban.
The Governor has called his reopening plan a data-driven and measured approach. But vacation rental owners have questioned whether the data-driven approach ended when it came to the popular getaway option.
The Panhandle delegation hopes DeSantis will apply the localized approach, which kept South Florida closed for vacation rentals. Only this time, a local order could let rentals open in their region.
“Our hotels, motels, inns, and resorts are reopening while vacation rentals are singled out,” they wrote. “They employ and directly impact so many in this region, yet will be unable to handle a second consecutive month with zero income. If it is not allowed to return soon, operating under strict social distancing and CDC guidelines, we fear that many of our constituents will suffer even more devastating losses than they already have.”
Ahead of Phase One of the reopening, DeSantis extended the ban indefinitely. His Re-Open Florida Task Force’s final report called for vacation rentals to open to Florida residents during Phase Two and to all guests in Phase Three.
The Governor has not announced the details for either of those phases but has deviated from the task force on some suggestions, including restaurant capacity and gyms. On Friday, he announced barbershops and salons could reopen Monday, another deviation, and out of sync with a Phase Two launch.
Fort Lauderdale Rep. Patricia Williams urged DeSantis on Thursday to extend his executive order suspending evictions and foreclosures in Florida for at least an additional 60 days.
In a letter addressed to the Gov., Williams encouraged DeSantis to consider Florida’s high unemployment numbers, the “broken system,” and those who were denied unemployment insurance into his decision.
“Allowing Executive Order 20-94 to expire would equate to the forced eviction of thousands of Floridians, likely also resulting in increased exposure to COVID-19 as those seeking refuge could no longer socially distance themselves,” Williams wrote. “This could lead to additional unnecessary tragedies.”
DeSantis signed Executive Order 20-94 on April 2 for 45 days. Without an extension, the order would lapse on May 17.
While the clock ticks on the Governor’s executive order, many Floridians are still struggling to get access to unemployment benefits through Florida’s online CONNECT system.
This week proved particularly frustrating for some Floridians, as more than 75% of unemployment claims processed Monday and Tuesday were rejected.
Adding to the frustration, DeSantis, on Monday, announced that the Inspector General would be launching an investigation into the CONNECT system — a system he described Tuesday as “totally shot.”
The CONNECT system was created under the leadership of then-Gov. Rick Scott. It cost taxpayers $77 million.
National Nurses Month
The Florida Association of Nurse Anesthetists said during the coronavirus pandemic, National Nurses Week is not enough. Instead, they are celebrating for the whole month.
“The hardworking CRNAs of the state of Florida are on the ground every day working to put an end to this pandemic,” said FANA President Jose D. Castillo III, Ph.D., MS, CRNA, APRN.
“During this month we especially, we take time to thank those CRNAs, many of whom are volunteering their time to make a difference while putting their health and safety on the line to help those in need in Florida and across the country. We are proud of the dedication of these heroes and we applaud their unyielding resolve to care for the people of Florida.”
FANA represents Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, which provide comprehensive anesthesia care to patients pre- and post-surgery. During the current crisis, however, Castillo said its members are “APRNs first.”
“There are so many of our members out serving and volunteering to help those who have been affected by this virus, putting others’ needs before their own to make a difference and flatten the curve,” he said.
FANA singled out three of its members for special recognition: Gina Taylor Willaford of Cape Coral, Jonathan E of Fort Myers, and Jackie Lemm of Cape Coral. All three have traveled to New York City to help care for patients in the nation’s hardest-hit city.
The Helios Education Foundation and Take Stock in Children announced a partnership Thursday to provide direct support for “at-risk” college students as they navigate the challenges presented by the ongoing global pandemic.
The goal of the fund is to supplement the roughly $14 billion designated for higher education in the CARES Act by providing Take Stock in Children Scholars with various resources and services such as emergency direct financial support, mentoring and professional development webinars.
“College students, especially those at risk for leaving their postsecondary studies, have faced incredible challenges as a result of COVID-19,” said Take Stock President and CEO, Jillian Hasner. “We’re so thankful for the long-standing partnership between Take Stock and the Helios Education Foundation as it allows us to provide emergency student support funding for our students’ most basic needs to ensure they remain on track to complete their academic goals and realize college graduation.”
Take Stock in Children is a nonprofit organization in Florida that aims to “break the cycle of poverty” by providing scholarships and mentorship to low-income, academically qualified students. Services for designated students can begin as early as middle school and continue throughout their college education and into their careers. To date, 34,000 children have been served throughout 67 Florida counties, and over $230 million has been offered in scholarships, according to their website.
The nonprofit will work with partner colleges and universities to create an online application for the aid where the needs of Take Stock in College students can be identified.
The Helios Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that invests in initiatives that tackle various educational issues, has invested millions of dollars in critical education issues since its inception in 2004.
“It is our hope that this partnership will provide some security and stability to help first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented postsecondary students persist in their educational journey and graduate on time,” said Paul J. Luna, president and CEO, Helios Education Foundation.
The 2nd Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission unveiled a list Friday of 10 applicants for a vacancy on the Leon County Court bench.
The applicants include Anthony Cammarata, Robert Churchill, Charles “Chuck” Collins, Karla Ellis, Robert Elson, Lisa Barclay Fountain, Cedell Ian Garland, Jason Jones, Mark Urban and Joe Werner.
The vacancy comes as Judge Anthony Miller rises to the 2nd Judicial Circuit.
On Facebook, Miller gave thanks when announcing his appointment.
“I’m humbled by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ appointment and confidence in me to serve on the circuit bench,” Miller wrote. “It’s been a privilege to serve on the Leon County Bench, and I now look forward to working with the Chief Judge and my fellow judges on the Circuit Bench, especially during the unprecedented challenges we face with COVID-19. I am deeply grateful to God, my family, friends and supporters who have helped me along this journey!”
Miller was appointed to the Leon County Court in June 2019 by DeSantis. Before the bench, he served as General Counsel for the Agency for State Technology.
He holds a bachelor’s degree from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and studied law at Florida State University.
The 2nd Judicial Circuit covers Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties.
FAMU snags stimulus cash
U.S. Rep. Al Lawson announced Monday that four historically Black colleges and universities, including Florida A&M University would receive an additional $29.4 million of federal stimulus funding.
The federal help comes as colleges and universities continue to weather the unprecedented losses suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a news release, the funds can pay for grants for students, faculty training, and to help offset any loss of revenue.
“Colleges have been hit hard by this pandemic and have had to make changes to the way they deliver education,” Lawson said. “Congress has taken swift action to support the students and institutions to ensure they emerge from this crisis stronger than before.”
The additional federal aid will provide FAMU $26.3 million worth of stimulus funding.
According to a news release, the Tallahassee based university has already received $6.5 million of CARES ACT funding, and another $6.5 million “is in the pipeline.” The money is intended to aid those impacted by the pandemic and low-income students.
“FAMU, along with the other recipients of these funds, face formidable financial challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These resources will help bridge the gap and allow us to address critical student success initiatives,” said FAMU President Larry Robinson, Ph.D.
Other area colleges receiving a slice of the federal aid include Edward Waters College, which will receive roughly $2.3 million, Florida Gateway College, which will receive approximately $73,484 and Florida State College Jacksonville, which will receive $711,841.