To chart an equitable course forward for all Floridians, we must first understand the journey that brought us to where we are today. The following publication is the second of FPI’s “Pursue Equity” series, a part of a multi-year research initiative on Florida’s historically discriminatory policies, their evolution, and their impact on all Florida communities today.
If there was any state that embodied the spirit of excess that characterized the Roaring Twenties, it was Florida. In the earlier part of the 20th century, development of Florida’s coasts was already well underway, driven by prominent industrialists Henry Flagler and Henry Plant, who had built railroads and luxury hotels that attracted wealthy tourists. The land boom of the 1920s took Florida’s hunger for development to a frenzy. Speculators and investors bought up properties, as prices were driven up higher and higher. The rise of the automobile and development of interstate highways led to an era of “tin can tourism” — waves of vacationers traveled down in modified cars to explore Florida, leading to an entire tourism industry to be built up around them. Tourists flooded the state, and at the start of the 1920s, 500,000 people were visiting Florida annually. By 1925, this number ballooned to 2.5 million. Meanwhile, the year-round population also continued to increase. One observer noted that the state “acted as though it were on a glorious bender – beautifully intoxicated and wildly hysterical.”
Although this boom would not last forever — by 1926 it had collapsed — the building of roads to facilitate tourism and travel was the top issue leading into the 1924 Florida election. During that election, the state Legislature placed on the ballot a measure (Amendment 1) that would come to largely define Florida: it prohibits the imposition of personal income or inheritance taxes. The thinking was that without these taxes, Florida would be able to attract wealthy residents, who would in turn bring with them capital and economic growth. These two issues represented both sides of Florida’s state budget — on one side of the ledger, a measure to permanently restrict the state’s revenue sources, and on the other side, a call for massive public spending on infrastructure needed to accommodate the state’s growth.
A look at the arguments in favor of both issues at that time seem like echoes of the arguments in favor of low taxes and increased development that are employed by their proponents today. And in the 1920s, as it is today, tax and budget policy decisions were both fueled by and reinforce inequities along racial and ethnic lines that are at the foundation of Florida’s economy.
In the months before the 1924 election, newspapers across the state expressed their support for Amendment 1, as did most of the gubernatorial candidates at the time. Most of these candidates also pledged to accelerate the development of roads. John W. Martin, who would win the election, was a big proponent of both:
"With the election of a governor dedicated to promoting the boom economy and with taxes on inheritances and incomes removed, the Florida ‘boom in paradise’ shifted into high gear. And with the inauguration of Martin’s ambitious roadbuilding program and the expectations of Floridians rising over the prospects of increased industry and tourism, Florida leaped from its past agricultural orientation into a modern, urban-oriented future."
During his campaign, Martin was outspoken in his criticism of the State Road Department, which he felt had not acted quickly enough to meet the growing demand for paved roads — something that resonated with voters. How he would accelerate road development was also aligned with the prevailing practices at that time, particularly in the South: utilizing the forced labor of incarcerated individuals. He criticized Raiford Prison for losing revenue by putting incarcerated Floridians to work on prison farms, which he characterized as “raising cotton for the boll weevils and vegetables in competition with the farmers of the state.” Putting them to work building roads, he believed, would make the prison a revenue-generator for the state.
Thus, in the early 20th century, the budget balancing act was achieved in part by exploiting the labor of prisoners. These Floridians, often imprisoned under specious charges under Florida’s Black Code laws, built Florida’s roads and infrastructure under unimaginable conditions. The Gainesville Sun describes the conditions of convict labor camps of the early 1920s:
“… a loophole in the 13th Amendment allowed the state to profit off forcing prisoners, most of them black, to work. The men lived in filth and had little to eat. They were arrested on frivolous or petty charges and made to pay off their debts working long hours in the sun. Those who didn’t faced whippings, beatings and torture.”
Before 1923, this occurred through “leasing” out the forced labor of prisoners, but even after it was abolished, the same practices persisted through chain gangs, or groups of prisoners chained together to build roads under the threat of punishment or even death.
It was common for local authorities to increase arrests of Black men for bogus infractions such as “vagrancy” in order to meet the demand for convict labor. This was found to be the case, for example, with the sheriff of Leon County during mid-1920s. Similarly, a study of the City of St. Petersburg found that a wave of arrests of Black people in the 1920s corresponded to labor shortages during the real estate boom: “Black muscle was critically needed on construction sites, and police raids and vagrancy arrets helped fill a portion of the gap.”
Voters’ decision to constitutionally prohibit personal income and inheritance taxes cannot be viewed outside of this broader context. The state wanted to attract new, wealthy residents and the land boom necessitated massive infrastructure development. The exploitation of prison labor, fueled by racist Black Code laws, enabled both of these goals, and ultimately, many Black Floridians paid with their lives to make Florida a “low tax” state.
Floridians have yet to vote again on the personal income tax or inheritance tax; the prohibition remains in our state constitution. But each year, lawmakers propose new tax breaks that further chip away at the state’s revenue base. The questions of who benefits from these tax reductions and who ultimately pays remain as relevant today as they were in the 1920s.
In 1924, the arguments in favor of Amendment 1 were aimed at attracting wealthy people to Florida who would then, supposedly, transform their wealth into the economic engine for the state. Not much has changed in the rhetoric that surrounds tax policy today. Proponents of reducing taxes often focus on Florida’s competitiveness in terms of attracting visitors, new residents, and most critically wealthy businesses to the state. By keeping taxes low, these businesses and individuals will help drive the economy toward growth, which, according to this theory, will provide benefits for all Floridians. This theory is not often borne out, as inequity still undergirds Florida’s tax system and economy.
Without a personal income tax, tax policy debates today take aim at the corporate income tax and sales tax. Just like in the 1920s, these tax cuts by and large benefit the wealthiest corporations, their shareholders, CEOs, etc. Most businesses in Florida are exempt from the corporate income tax, and of those who are not exempt only one out of 10 owes anything in corporate income taxes. In fact, it is only the wealthiest of corporations that owes any corporate income tax at all and that’s who would benefit from cutting these taxes.
With no personal income tax and a shrinking corporate income tax, Florida relies heavily on the sales tax for the vast majority of the tax revenue that is collected, which disproportionately impacts low- and moderate-income households and in particular, Black and Latino/a Floridians. The reputation of Florida as a “low tax” state once again is misleading. Florida’s “upside-down” tax code is actually a high tax state for Floridians of color and Floridians with low income. As stated in a recent FPI report, “This imbalance in Florida’s tax code suppresses the prosperity of a diverse group of families making low- to moderate-income while benefiting the state’s more affluent and predominantly white Floridians with high income.”
As the state continues to chip away at Florida’s revenue base to benefit a wealthy few, it has also sustained disinvestments in vital public services to balance the budget. People of color and people with low income are disproportionately impacted by these funding cuts in every area of investment from education and healthcare to housing and worker protections, and more.
Tax and budget policies are not simply about funding allocations; they are intrinsic to the priorities of the state and a reflection of its values. A look at the arguments in favor of low taxes shows that history does repeat itself. Tax cuts are presented as the best way to spur economic growth; but as history illustrates the fruits of this growth are not shared by everyone. Moreover, when it comes to who pays, it often has been at the expense of the livelihood and lives of Black Floridians. By fixing our upside-down tax code and making bold investments in people and communities, lawmakers can reduce longstanding disparities, promote dignity for all Floridians, and prime Florida for lasting, shared prosperity.
 Florida Memory, State Library and Archives of Florida, “Tin Can Tourism,” https://www.floridamemory.com/learn/exhibits/photo_exhibits/tincans/.
 Jim Robison, Orlando Sentinel, “Automobile Drove State’s Early Tourism,” April 16, 2000, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-2000-04-16-0004150380-story.html.
 Florida Department of Transportation Environmental Management Office, “The Historic Highway Bridges of Florida,” December 2012, Ch.2, p.13. https://www.fdot.gov/docs/default-source/environment/pubs/Historic-Highway-Bridges-of-Florida-2010-Update.pdf.
 V.H. McDonnell, “Rise of the “Businessman’s Politician”: The 1924 Florida Gubernatorial Race,” The Florida Historical Quarterly, 1973, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30150977.
 McDonnell, 46.
 Ben Conarck, “Work Forced. A century later, unpaid prison labor continues to power Florida,” The Gainesville Sun, May 26, 2019, https://www.gainesville.com/story/news/state/2019/05/27/unpaid-prison-labor-continues-to-power-florida/5056240007/.
 Rob Goyanes, “The secret history of Florida prison labor,” The New Tropic, January 4, 2016, https://thenewtropic.com/prison-labor-florida/.
 Vivien M.L. Miller, “Murder, ‘Convict Flogging Affairs,’ and Debe Peonage,” Reading Southern Poverty Between the Wars, 1918-1939, ed. Richard Godden and Martin Crawford, University of Georgia Press, 2006.
 Ruthmae Sears, et. al., “Examination of Historical and Modern-Day Impact of Structural Racism on the Lives of Black People in the City of St. Petersburg, Florida,” University of South Florida, 2021, https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5081&context=fac_publications.
 Esteban Leonardo Santis, PhD, “3 Reasons Why Florida Lawmakers Should Fix the Corporate Income Tax,” Florida Policy Institute, October 4, 2021, https://www.floridapolicy.org/posts/3-reasons-why-florida-lawmakers-should-fix-the-corporate-income-tax.
 Esteban Leonardo Santis, PhD, “A Working Floridians Tax Rebate for a Stronger and More Equitable Florida,” Florida Policy Institute, September 15, 2021, https://www.floridapolicy.org/posts/a-working-floridians-tax-rebate-for-a-stronger-and-more-equitable-florida.
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.
RA biweekly reporting requirements reinstated. Although previously waived, biweekly reporting was reinstated effective May 10, 2020. DEO’s guide to claiming weeks is here.
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.
On March 31, 2020, AHCA alerted providers and DCF posted on the ACCESS website that:
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.
The public charge rule will not be applied to immigrants’ use of Medicaid benefits for COVID-19 testing and treatment.
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.