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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida can help. Our responsibility is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

Florida Families Struggle More Than National Average With Food, Housing, Health Care

The latest Kids Count report shows that Florida’s families are struggling at higher percentages than families nationwide when it comes to food security, housing stability, and affordable health care during the pandemic.

In less than three months, the Florida Legislature will convene to pass new policies and set priorities for the state budget.

Childcare experts are hoping a new report on the pandemic's impact on children will help guide their decisions.

The latest Kids Count report - Kids, Families and COVID-19: Pandemic Pain Points and the Urgent Need to Respond - said Florida’s families are struggling at higher percentages than families nationwide when it comes to food security, housing stability, and affordable health care.

Read the full report here.

Norín Dollard, the Director of Florida KIDS COUNT, said pandemic-related shutdowns and job losses impact all those areas.

"Businesses are affected everywhere by this, but because of our heavy reliance on the service industry on tourism, we're really in a difficult place."

She said Florida was hit especially hard by COVID-19 shutdowns and job losses because it's a tourism state; and people who work in food service and retail already tend to be underpaid.

"A lot of the families that are most affected by this weren't really thriving to begin with."

This KIDS COUNT report, a 50-state report of recent household data developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzing how families are faring during the COVID-19 crisis, examined data from weekly surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau that demonstrate how families across the country are challenged to meet basic needs during this global public health crisis while managing school, work and mental health.

By measuring food security, the ability to make rent or mortgage payments, health insurance status, and mental health concerns, the Casey Foundation identified four pain points for children and families that require immediate action.

The percentages of Florida households with children who have experienced these challenges are listed below:

  • FOOD SECURITY: 16 percent (national average: 14 percent) said they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat. According to Feeding America, Florida’s food insecurity is projected to be at 17 percent, while food banks in Florida and across the country face a dwindling supply of food. The number of participants in the Florida Food Assistance Program (SNAP), sometimes known as food stamps, increased 44 percent to more than 3.8 million Floridians. At the beginning of the pandemic, almost two-thirds of SNAP recipients were families with children (CBPP, 2020).

  • HOUSING STABILITY: 23 percent (national average: 18 percent) had slight or no confidence they would make the next rent or mortgage payment on time. According to the research firm Stout, it is estimated that 515,000 to 980,000 households in Florida are at risk of eviction. Protective measures have been put in place by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

  • AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE: 15 percent (national average: 12 percent) did not have health insurance. Florida state economists have predicted that, due to pandemic-related economic conditions, more than 50,000 children are expected to be dropped from the Florida KidCare program during the current fiscal year.

  • MENTAL HEALTH: 20 percent (national average: 21 percent) felt down, depressed or hopeless. Among adults in Florida who reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder, 20.4 percent reported needing counseling or therapy, but not receiving it in the prior four weeks, compared to the U.S. average of 22.5 percent (Kaiser Health News).

The Annie E. Casey Foundation urges policymakers and child advocates to put COVID-19 response at the top of 2021 agendas to ensure that children have what they need to survive and thrive. The Foundation calls on elected officials and other decision makers to:

  • Prioritize the physical and mental health of all children by guaranteeing that any vaccine will be available without cost as a factor and by retaining and strengthening the Affordable Care Act. To promote mental health, particularly in times of crisis, policymakers should work to reduce the student-to-school-counselor ratio in all school settings to levels recommended by mental health professionals.

  • Help families with children to achieve financial stability and bolster their well-being by expanding access to unemployment insurance for part-time and gig economy workers, low-wage workers and students by expanding child care access. Additionally, policymakers should eliminate barriers to accessing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). And beyond any temporary housing assistance programs aimed at heading off a foreclosure or eviction crisis, federal policymakers should expand the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, and increase the overall availability of public housing.

  • Ensure schools are better funded, more equitably funded and ready to meet the needs of students disparately affected by the pandemic by boosting school funding to protect against the economic impact of the pandemic, build maintenance-of-equity requirements into relief packages and address disparities in technology access at home and in the classroom.

  • Put racial and ethnic equity first in policymaking by using disaggregated data and engaging community stakeholders. This should ensure that the policymaking process is informed by the diverse perspectives of those hardest hit by the crisis and created in partnership with communities. This approach should underpin any concrete policy actions.

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Daylina Miller is a multimedia reporter for WUSF and Health News Florida, covering health in the Tampa Bay area and across the state.