Lawmakers Worry Public Assistance Rates Aren't Dropping With Unemployment

Jan 13, 2017
Originally published on January 12, 2017 5:01 pm

On paper, Florida’s economy has recovered since the great recession. But that progress isn’t obvious looking at the state’s public assistance enrollment.

Florida’s unemployment rate has dropped to 4.8% since the recession, but public assistance enrollment hasn’t dropped with it. According to the Department of Children and Families, 3.3 million people rely on SNAP, or food stamps. That’s more than twice the enrollment in 2008, at the beginning of the recession. Almost a third of beneficiaries do have a job, but many are part-time or low-wage positions that don’t necessarily pay the bills. Many who are unemployed face concrete barriers, according to Bruce Ferguson with Career Source Florida.

“Many of our clients, both SNAP and TANF, have potentially felony backgrounds. Something as simple as a $100 bounced check is a felony offense in the state of Florida. That eliminates you from a lot of job opportunities,” Ferguson said.

Besides felony convictions, some beneficiaries are also struggling with disabilities and lack of education.

“We are hitting third and fourth grade reading levels. That is a long process to get that up to a point to where they can apply for jobs. To even apply for a job! And be eligible, or have a likelihood of getting it. So we’re working with kind of the most difficult of the difficult,” Ferguson said.

Heading into the legislative session, state lawmakers are analyzing why so many Floridians still need help making ends meet. And they’re debating new ways to connect people to adult education, workforce training and higher-paying jobs.

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