Despite the economic growth since the end of the last recession, there is still persistent and growing inequality in Florida. While the state’s economy has improved by some measures, Florida’s low-income residents and communities of color continue to face barriers accessing financial stability and economic mobility. Instead of taking proactive steps to mitigate inequality, Florida lawmakers continue to cut investments for critical public services while relying on an upside-down tax system — one in which families with the lowest incomes contribute the most as a share of their incomes.
Amendment 5, one of the measures on this year’s general elections ballot, would cement in place Florida’s inequitable tax system and low investment in public services, locking in inequality for generations to come. The measure would require a two-thirds (supermajority) vote of the state Legislature to approve any new state revenue, taxes and fees or eliminate tax incentives, loopholes and other such expenditures.
Florida currently has the wrong priorities, giving special tax breaks to big corporations while failing to address growing racial and ethnic inequality. Amendment 5 locks in these failed priorities before the state has a chance to recover from deep cuts following the Great Recession, and a supermajority requirement would likely prompt huge funding cuts in the wake of another fiscal crisis. Amendment 5 would unnecessarily restrict investments in Florida’s future.
Florida has one of the most inequitable tax systems in the nation, ranking 48th among all states. Families with household incomes below $18,700 pay the highest percentage of their incomes in taxes, while families with the highest incomes—exceeding $548,700– pay the lowest percentage.
As incomes rise, the percentage of income paid in state and local taxes decreases, with low- and middle-income families contributing the most (See Figure 1).
An upside-down tax system perpetuates wealth inequality, as well as disparities across racial and ethnic lines. Amendment 5 would cement this structure in place. African-American and Latino Floridians are more likely to be in the lowest income group, and least likely to be in the wealthiest (see Figure 2). For example, 27 percent of African Americans and 21 percent of Latinos are among the poorest 20 percent of Floridians. By contrast, only 9 percent of African Americans and 14 percent of Latinos in Florida, respectively, have incomes placing them in the wealthiest 20 percent. With an upside-down tax system, African-American and Latino Floridians would face the highest effective state and local tax rates.
Florida’s reliance on sales and excise taxes and its lack of a broad-based income tax are the primary drivers of these inequities. Absent a personal income tax, which often mitigates inequality, Florida relies heavily on sales and excise taxes. Fifty-one percent of Florida’s revenue comes from sales and excise taxes, compared to the national average of 35 percent. Without offsetting measures, such as targeted tax credits or rebates, these taxes impose the greatest cost on low-income families.
As incomes rise, families spend a lower percentage of their income on the day-to-day items and goods that they need. Since lower- and middle-income families spend a greater portion of their incomes on everyday expenses than wealthy families, they contribute a greater percentage in sales and excise taxes. Other states offset this impact by providing targeted tax credits for low-income families. Florida, however, offers no such relief. Under a supermajority requirement, legislators could do little to reform Florida’s tax structure.
Florida ranks 50th in the nation in per person investment in public services. On average, states have increased investment in these areas as their economies improved after the Great Recession, yet Florida has experienced a downward trend (see Figure 3). Across the board, as the state continues to underinvest in critical priorities, families who struggle to make ends meet — particularly families in communities of color — are hurt the most. Amendment 5 would exacerbate these impacts, making it harder for Floridians of color to access economic opportunity.
Students of color make up a growing majority of Florida’s public-school students, growing to 62 percent in the 2017-18 school year. While the student population has become more diverse, the state’s investment in public education per-pupil remains 22.9 percent beneath pre-recession levels, after adjusting for inflation. State and local combined funds for Florida’s primary and secondary (PreK-12) education dropped $2,767 per pupil from 2008 to 2016, inflation adjusted. By this measure, only Arizona is worse than Florida in terms of cuts per-pupil since 2008. The proposed supermajority threshold within Amendment 5 would lock into place deep state funding cuts for K-12, forcing local school districts to make cuts in teacher positions, programs and other services that reduce barriers to economic mobility for students of color.
Over the past few decades, enrollment in two- and four-year public colleges by students of color has increased nationally — from 17 percent in 1980 to more than 40 percent in 2018. In Florida, the share is even higher: 54 percent of Florida’s public university students (2017-18) and 58 percent of the state college system’s students (2015-16) are non-white. As more students of color pursue post-secondary education, it has become increasingly unaffordable. Florida’s per-pupil spending on higher education is the lowest in the nation, while over the past decade tuition at colleges and universities has increased by more than $2,000. Amendment 5 would make this path much more difficult, particularly for students of color, as college continues to become less affordable and as increased costs are borne by students and families.
Florida has the highest share of “cost-burdened” renters in the nation — those who pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs — with households of color facing the greatest challenges with housing affordability.Nationally, African-American and Latino households have higher housing cost burdens (45 percent and 43 percent, respectively). The shortage of affordable housing particularly impacts the families facing housing instability; notably, with the end of federal temporary shelter assistance, many of the displaced families who came to Florida from Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017 may be facing homelessness. Amendment 5 would worsen housing affordability. Over the past 15 years, the state has used more than $2 billion in funds that were slated for affordable housing development and preservation for other purposes. With Amendment 5’s supermajority requirement in place, legislators would continue to raid these funds.
As Florida faces more frequent and forceful natural disasters, the state will need increased resources for recovery and resiliency efforts. Structural inequalities in the economy have resulted in low-income communities and people of color being less insulated from natural disasters, and too often they bear the brunt of the worst impacts. Research has shown that the poorest one-third of counties in the U.S. face greater economic hardships as a result of natural disasters, compared to wealthier counties. Furthermore, in the aftermath of natural disasters, as white households see an increase of wealth, households of color experience a loss of wealth. Florida can mitigate these impacts by proactively investing in resiliency planning and conservation efforts to preserve natural barriers on the state’s coast line. However, under Amendment 5 legislators would face increased hurdles in raising revenue both in the short-term for emergency responses and in long-term investments in conservation and community resiliency.
Over the past few decades, Florida’s court system has become increasingly dependent on fines and fees that are levied on individuals accused or convicted of crimes. As new court fees are enacted, the state has also eliminated waiver opportunities for those who cannot afford to pay the fees. Defendants’ ability to pay is not considered, and as a result, more individuals who are unable to make their payments are arrested and land in jail. Because Florida arrests and incarcerates African Americans and Latinos at a higher rate than their white counterparts, these groups are likely to experience the hardest blow from court fees and fines. A supermajority threshold like that of Amendment 5 would lock in the current fee system and its inequities. If legislators are unable to raise revenue to offset any decrease in court fines and fees, courts will continue to rely on these revenue sources, effectively shutting the door on the possibility of reform.
Florida ranks alarmingly low on several measures of health, from the uninsured rate to investments in children and adults with developmental disabilities or mental illness. Across these measures, the health and well-being of African American and Latino Floridians is persistently worse than their white counterparts, and Florida’s communities of color are disproportionately hurt by these trends. Funding for health care programs, most notably Medicaid, has repeatedly been put on the chopping block by Florida’s Legislature, and would be a target for cuts if Amendment 5 is enacted. As people of color make up 61 percent of those covered by Medicaid in Florida, Amendment 5 would pose a significant threat to their well-being and ability to access care.
Florida’s growing inequality is not only a threat to communities of color, but to all of Florida’s current and future residents. An economy built on disparity does not have the solid foundation needed to weather the next economic downturn. Florida can address inequality by making changes to its tax system, and making the investments needed to support the current and future needs of communities. Amendment 5 would make these reforms and investments nearly impossible. It would tie legislators’ hands and put up unnecessary hurdles rather than providing a pathway toward increased prosperity and opportunity for all Floridians.
 ITEP. “Who Pays? Sixth Edition.” Accessed via: https://itep.org/whopays/
 Florida Department of Education, 2017-18 Student Enrollment by Race. http://www.fldoe.org/accountability/data-sys/edu-info-accountability-services/pk-12-public-school-data-pubs-reports/students.stml
 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of Census Bureau’s Public Elementary-Secondary Education 2016 Data and National Center on Education Statistics enrollment estimates.
 Mitchell, Michael, et al. “Unkept Promises: State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Access and Equity.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, October 4, 2018. Accessed via: https://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/unkept-promises-state-cuts-to-higher-education-threaten-access-and
 Florida Department of Education, “The Factbook: Report for the Florida College System 2016”. Accessed via: http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/15267/urlt/FactBook2016.pdf and State University System of Florida, https://www.flbog.edu/resources/iud/enrollment_search.php
 “Florida’s Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Access and Equity.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. October 2018. Accessed via: https://www.cbpp.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/10-4-18sfp-factsheets-florida.pdf
 Knight, Sadaf. “Amendment 5 Would Exacerbate Florida’s Affordable Housing Crisis.” Florida Policy Institute, August 2018.
 Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. “The State of the Nation’s Housing 2018.” Accessed via: http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/Harvard_JCHS_State_of_the_Nations_Housing_2018.pdf
 Ruiz-Grossman, Sarah. “FEMA Stopped Paying For Hotels For Displaced Puerto Ricans. Now Some Are Homeless.” Huffington Post, September 20, 2018. Accessed via: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/hurricane-maria-displaced-puerto-ricans-fema-hotels_us_5ba17fcce4b04d32ebfda3cb
 Florida Housing Finance Corporation. Historical Financial Summary of Florida’s State and Local Government Housing Trust Funds.
 Coffee, Joyce. “Climate Disasters Hurt the Poor the Most. Here’s What We Can Do About It.” Governing, February 14, 2018. Accessed via: http://www.governing.com/commentary/col-disasters-disadvantaged-climate-justice.html
 Dubb, Steve. “Study Finds White Wealth Rises after Disasters, but Declines for People of Color.” Nonprofit Quarterly, August 28, 2018. Accessed via: https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2018/08/28/study-finds-white-wealth-rises-after-disasters-but-declines-for-people-of-color/
 Department of Financial Services, Division of Accounting and Auditing, Bureau of Local Government. Total County Government Revenues Reported by Account Code. Fiscal Year 2016.
 The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons, accessed on June 19th, 2018 http://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/color-of-justice-racial-and-ethnic-disparity-in-state-prisons/
 Florida Minority Health Profiles, Florida Department of Health, Office of Minority Health and Health Equity. Accessed via: http://www.floridahealth.gov/programs-and-services/minority-health/index.html
 “Distribution of the Nonelderly with Medicaid by Race/Ethnicity.” Kaiser Family Foundation, 2016. Accessed via: https://www.kff.org/medicaid/state-indicator/distribution-by-raceethnicity-4/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D
American Rescue Plan Act Changes. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 extended PEUC and PUA benefits through the week ending September 6, 2021. It also increased the maximum duration of PEUC benefits ($300 a week) to 53 weeks and the maximum duration of PUA to 79 weeks. Although PEUC and PUA did not end until September 6, 2021, Florida withdrew from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program (FPUC) effective June 26, 2021. FPUC provided persons who were out of work due to COVID-19 with an additional $300 a week in unemployment insurance.
Reemployment Assistance weeks reverted to 12 effective January 1, 2022. DEO determines the maximum number of weeks available to RA claimants based on a statutory formula that looks at the average unemployment rate for the most recent third calendar year quarter (i.e., July, August, and September). Based on the downturn in unemployment, the maximum number of weeks for RA reverted to 12 effective January 1, 2022.
RA work-search and work registration requirements reinstated on May 30, 2021. Persons filing an application for RA benefits beginning March 15, 2020, are not required to complete work registration in Employ Florida through May 29, 2021. In addition, work search requirements for individuals requesting benefits for the weeks beginning March 15, 2020, were also reinstated on May 30, 2021.
Mobile app deployed. DEO has deployed a mobile app for RA applications.
DEO announces extended benefits. DEO announced implementation of Extended Benefits (EB).
Resources and guidance. For a list of resources and guidance from the United States Department of Labor on unemployment insurance and COVID-19, go here.
For DEO’s “Reemployment Assistance Frequently Asked Questions and Additional Resources,” updated 12/30/2020, go here.
For DEO’s latest claims data, go here.
DCF opens offices. DCF has reopened its brick-and-mortar storefronts, which were previously closed due to coronavirus.
DCF adds call center numbers. DCF has added a call center number for Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call center numbers now include 850-300-4323, 866-762-2237, or TTY 1-800-955-8771.
Certification periods extended by 6 months only through August 2020. Certification periods for cash, food and medical assistance were extended by 6 months for individuals and families scheduled to recertify in April through August 2020. FNS’ approval of the SNAP extension for August is here. However, effective September 1, 2020, SNAP, TANF and Medicaid recertifications have been reinstated, although DCF says that no one will lose Medicaid due to recertification.
DCF allows phone interviews. Phone interviews are now being used for TANF cash and SNAP food assistance.
Mandatory work requirements suspended only through May 2021. Under a directive from Governor DeSantis to waive work requirements for safety net programs, DCF waived work requirements for individuals participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) through May 2021. To do this, DCF explains that it partnered with the Department of Economic Opportunity to apply “good cause” statewide for TANF and SNAP recipients who would otherwise be subject to participation in mandatory work requirements as a condition of receiving those benefits. Through May 2021, persons who were sanctioned in the past due to work requirements will be able to reapply and participate in SNAP or TANF again.
Work requirements were reinstated effective June 1, 2021.
Emergency allotments (EA) ended. DCF automatically supplemented SNAP allotments of current recipients up to the maximum for a household’s size for July 2021. However, EA was discontinued beginning August 1, 2021.
The SNAP benefits increase by 15 percent ended in October 2021. Floridians who participate in SNAP to put food on the table will receive a temporary 15 percent supplement to SNAP under COVID relief passed by Congress and extended by the American Rescue Plan Act through September 2021.
FNS permanently increases SNAP through revamp of the Thrifty Food Plan. Effective October 2021, FNS has mandated a permanent increase to SNAP through a revamp of the Thrifty Food Plan. DCF says that the increase amounts to about 6% for Floridians.
Time limits suspended. SNAP time limits are suspended during the COVID-19 public health emergency. No one in Florida should be barred from SNAP due to time limits, even if they exhausted their time limit in the past.
Florida granted waiver to allow families to purchase groceries online. DCF has been granted a federal waiver to permit the State of Florida to launch a pilot project statewide effective April 21, 2020, that allows families to purchase groceries online with their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card instead of going into stores.
No Medicaid terminations from March 2020 through the end of the federal public health emergency. The national public health emergency has existed since January 27, 2020 and has been renewed by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in 90-day increments since that time. The most recent renewal is effective January 16, 2022.
Redetermination/recertification times are reinstated. As of October 1, 2020 AHCA's website is alerting recipients that the Department of Children and Families is now mailing letters for case reviews to check if a household is still eligible for Medicaid and/or Medically Needy. AHCA is urging people receiving these letters to take steps now to re-apply. But note, Medicaid coverage will not end during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. In January 2021 DCF conducted one-year “automated renewals” for people whose sole income is social security and SSI and are enrolled in an SSI-related Medicaid program (e.g., MEDS/AD, Medically Needy and Medicare Savings Programs). People getting VA income were not included in the automated renewal.
Extended application time. Effective with applications filed in February 2020, the time for submitting documentation required to process an application is extended for 120 days from the date of the application and eligibility will still be effective the first day of the month the application was received. Effective July 1, 2021, this policy has been rescinded. Medicaid applications submitted on or after July 1, 2021 may be denied on the 30th day after application or the day after verification information is due. Applications filed prior to July 1, will be allowed 120 days to provide requested verification to establish Medicaid eligibility.
Exclusion of additional unemployment payments in determining eligibility. The $600/week of additional unemployment insurance payments under the CARES Act will not be counted as income in determining Medicaid eligibility. (However, these payments will be counted as income in determining marketplace subsidy calculations.)
Coverage of Medicaid services during the state of emergency
COVID-19 Vaccines for Medicaid Enrollees. In an executive order published March 16, 2021 Governor DeSantis revised the vaccine distribution plan, which applies to the general public including Medicaid enrollees, to lower the age requirement to 40 effective March 29, 2021 and then effective April 5, 2021 all Floridians are eligible to receive any COVID-19 vaccination approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Medicaid enrollees eligible to receive the vaccine may visit myvaccine.fl.gov to find a location distributing the vaccine and to schedule an appointment.
On March 12, 2021, AHCA published instructions for Medicaid enrollees on how to obtain Medicaid transportation once they have scheduled an appointment for a vaccine. AHCA states: "Florida Medicaid will take you to get the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost. All you need to do is set up a time to get your vaccine. Next, let your Medicaid plan know you need a ride and they will take care of the rest. If you are not enrolled in a plan, call the Medicaid Helpline at 1-877-254-1055 to find out the name and phone number for a transportation service."
The state has also recently launched a new email system to help bring COVID-19 vaccines to homebound seniors. Seniors will be able to sign up to have the vaccine come to them by emailing a request to HomeboundVaccine@em.myflorida.com.
AHCA has posted Medicaid Alerts and FAQs providing more detail on Medicaid service changes in response to COVID-19. They address a wide range of topics including, but not limited to: telemedicine guidance for medical, behavioral health, and early intervention services providers; long-term care provider network flexibilities allowing more types of providers to deliver specified long term care services; and continuity of care for adult day care center enrollees during the time these centers are closed.
AHCA is loosening coverage restrictions for behavioral health services. Effective May 5, 2020, all prior authorization requirements for mental health or substance use disorder treatment are waived and service limitations (frequency and duration) are lifted. For behavioral analysis services, current authorizations will be extended through an "administrative approval process" which does not require providers to reassess beneficiaries currently getting services. Effective July 1, 2021 service limits will be reinstated for behavioral health services and effective July 15, 2021 Medicaid prior authorization requirements will be reinstated for behavioral health services.
Per a May 29, 2020 provider alert, during the state of emergency AHCA will be reimbursing providers for telemedicine well-child visits provided to children older than 24 months through age 20. Providers are directed to actively work to schedule follow-up in-person visits to administer immunizations and other physical components of the exam which cannot be accomplished through telemedicine.
Coverage of home and community-based waiver services (HCBS) - In response to the public emergency, Florida obtained approval from the federal government to make changes in HCBS waiver programs, including the Long Term Care and Developmental Disabilities programs. The changes are effective retroactively from January 27, 2020 to January 26, 2021. Details can be found here. They include, but are not limited to:
Note on COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines for the uninsured. Florida has not opted to receive 100 percent federal Medicaid funding for COVID-19 testing of people without health insurance. Under the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act this option has been expanded to cover COVID-19 treatment and vaccines for the uninsured as well. Since the state has not taken up this option Floridians must look to an uneven patchwork of free testing, treatment, and vaccine resources scattered around the state. AHCA advises that uninsured people may receive free testing from their county health department or a federally qualified health center and that “many communities provide testing for free for individuals who do not have insurance. Please [click here] to find a test site in your area. Uninsured individuals should ask before the test whether testing is free of charge." There are no state agency instructions on where uninsured people can receive free treatment. However, more information on possible sources for free treatment is available here.
Residency proof no longer required at some vaccine sites, “paving the way for migrants.” - On April 29, 2021 Surgeon General Rivkees issued a new public health advisory specifying that COVID-19 vaccines are available to “a Florida resident” or someone “who is present in Florida for the purpose of providing goods or services for the benefits of residents and visitors of the State of Florida.” This new policy applies to all state-run and federally supported vaccination sites. It rescinds an advisory issued in January that had restricted vaccinations to people who could show proof of Florida residency
2021 unemployment compensation claimants can access free or reduced cost health insurance through the ACA marketplace. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace was re-opened in February 2021 to give people who need health insurance a new “special enrollment" opportunity to get covered. The 2021 American Rescue Plan eliminated or vastly reduced premiums for many people with low or moderate incomes.
Starting July 1, 2021, people who received or have been approved for unemployment compensation for any week beginning in 2021 can access free or reduced cost comprehensive health insurance plans through the ACA marketplace. This benefit is available regardless of someone's current income. To get this benefit, people must enroll in the marketplace no later than August 15, 2021. For help with enrollment, contact Covering Florida at 877-813-9115.
School children in distance learning still eligible for free or reduced cost meals. Students in distance learning for 2020-21 can still receive school meals through the National School Lunch Program if they are eligible. The student or parent/guardian may pick up meals at the school but should contact their school for more information.
For a list of current child nutrition program waivers for Florida from USDA, go here.
Congress allows increased fruit and vegetable benefits. At present, WIC provides $9 for children and $11 for women monthly for fruits and vegetables. The American Rescue Plan Act makes funding available for a four-month increase in the benefit of up to $35 monthly, if a state chooses to do so.
DOH attains waiver allowing remote issuance: Department of Health (DOH) obtained a waiver of the requirement that participants pick up their EBT cards in person at recertification or during nutritional education appointments.
WIC participants allowed to substitute certain food. Under a waiver from USDA, WIC participants in Florida are allowed to substitute milk of any available fat content and whole wheat or whole grain bread in package sizes up to 24 oz. when 16 oz. packages are unavailable.
USDA waived physical presence requirements: Although the scope and logistics are unclear at this time, USDA has given DOH permission to waive the requirement that persons be physically present at each certification or recertification determination in order to determine eligibility under the program through May 31, 2020.
USDA extends certification periods through May 31, 2020, for some participants.
For a list of current WIC waivers for Florida from USDA, go here.
HHS provides guidance. HHS has issued guidance on the flexibilities in TANF to respond to COVID-19.