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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Florida's epidemic of homeless children makes national news

From the Florida Independent

by Ashley Lopez

60 Minutes aired a program this weekend shedding light on one of the little-discussed and truly heartbreaking aspects of the country’s persistent economic woes: an epidemic of homeless schoolchildren. The subject of the program was Seminole County, Florida — a county with 1,100 homeless students.

Among the most staggering numbers highlighted during the program was “of all the families without shelter in America, one third are in Florida.”

The state’s foreclosure crisis, coupled with high unemployment and austere budget cuts, has resulted in countless homeless families in Florida living out of their cars — if they have them, 60 Minutes explains. Many families with small children are left hoping for a job or charity before food runs out. Caught in the crosshairs of this epidemic, the program shows, have been young schoolchildren.

According to this year’s KIDS COUNT data, Florida was “the state with the 2nd highest percent of children impacted by foreclosure since 2007.”

The deeply moving account of a handful of young children had a persistent theme: Most homeless families in the state had run out of options. Many saw their unemployment benefits dry up, and public services were too scarce and maxed out to provide any help.

Most of the families interviewed by 60 Minutes said they were relying solely on the generosity of donations from their community.

What was not mentioned, however, was the state’s missed opportunities to help.

One example was a line in the the state’s 2011/2012 budget that allocated $12 million dollars from the state’s general revenue fund to the National Veterans’ Homeless Support Group for “homeless housing assistance grants.” While this appropriation made it through the budget process, the item was one of the many vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott spoke about the funds this weekend, the Naples Daily News reports:

“I care completely about all these programs,” said Scott, whose budget cuts earlier this year slashed funding to some veteran and farm surplus programs that helped the homeless.

“All the programs are very important, but nobody wants their taxes to go up,” Scott explained, noting that businesses also can help spur the economy. “They’ve got to grow. We’ve got to make this a place people can do well.”

The state also reduced unemployment benefits, even though the state has yet to get a handle on its unemployment rate. A bill signed by Scott this year reduced the maximum number of weeks someone can receive state unemployment benefits. The limit went from 26 weeks to 23 — and if the state’s unemployment rate continues to fall, benefits could be limited to as little as 12 weeks.

There are currently no assurances that legislators in the state are looking to beef up public assistance programs either. Already, there are warnings of deeper budget cuts as the state prepares for a $2 billion shortfall.

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