Despite the alarming projections of revenue decreases and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Florida Legislature has passed the largest budget in the state’s history. Thanks to federal aid, such as the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act, lawmakers were able to avoid the deep funding cuts we experienced in the wake of the previous recession. Still, the budget falls short in meeting the needs of Floridians who have been most harmed by COVID-19, and it does little to set up an equitable economic recovery.
In what has been a harrowing, unpredictable year for millions of Floridians, it’s all the more important that state lawmakers ensure transparency and an opportunity for public input when it comes to policy decisions. This has not been the case in the Sunshine State — from earlier his year, when the Legislature failed to make public hearings more accessible amid COVID-19, to just this week, when lawmakers negotiated at lightning speed how $6.6 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars would be appropriated.
A truly equitable recovery is one in which people affected the most by the pandemic and recession are given ample opportunity to participate in the lawmaking process.
We do applaud Florida lawmakers for preserving Medicaid coverage for 19- and 20-year olds — which the Senate had eliminated in its budget — and extending postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months. We also appreciate the use of ARPA funds to provide bonuses to child care workers, teachers, and other state employees. However, the Legislature missed the opportunity to reverse Florida’s deep and persistent inequities, particularly in light of the pandemic and economic crisis. The Legislature failed to expand Medicaid coverage to all adults with low income in the Sunshine State, opting instead to leave $3.5 billion in additional federal funding on the table. Additionally, $3.6 billion in ARPA state fiscal aid remains unallocated. This funding could have been used to invest in families, workers, and small businesses that have suffered the most over the past year.