Florida delegation tells DeSantis to apply for food assistance money

Rep. Al Lawson leads a group of Democrats calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to apply for federal money.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

Special to the Outlook

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson led all Congressional Florida Democrats in urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to immediately apply and extend the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program through the summer of 2021. Doing so would provide $820 million in federal food assistance to Florida’s students.

In April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture extended P-EBT through the current summer months. Florida is the largest state that has not applied to extend these critical benefits.

“As kids return home to quarantine and classes are missed, food insecurity remains a problem for many Florida families,” the members wrote in a joint statement. “Given that the pandemic continues to worsen in our state, especially among children, it would be abhorrent to leave millions of federal dollars on the table that could feed people in need at no additional cost to Floridians.”

The P-EBT program was made available to the state through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to help feed children who missed meals because they could not attend schools in person during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents of children who qualify for free or lunches at a reduced price received an extra $375 a month to help pay for their kid’s meal. 

“In Florida’s fifth district, there are several schools with 100 percent of its students on free meal programs,” Lawson said. “One of my biggest concerns when schools closed during the pandemic was how our children who receive free and reduced lunches would eat. We have children going to school hungry, and struggling with hunger after school, on the weekends and during the summer. Not applying for these federal funds will continue to exasperate food insecurities for many of our families.”  

In the letter, the lawmakers noted that since students have returned to in-person classrooms, positivity rates and pediatric hospitalizations have continued to climb – forcing school closures and additional precautions to protect children. With the Delta variant playing a role in the surge, infections in the state continue to climb. Unlike the first wave, which severely affected seniors, researchers are reporting that the newest wave of cases involves younger people who are not vaccinated.

More than 40,000 Floridians already have lost their lives to the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, Lawson also voted to advance President Joe Biden’s historic Build Back Better agenda, which will deliver life-changing benefits for working families across the nation. This is a key step required in order to move forward on writing and passing the forthcoming Build Back Better Act, which will include overwhelmingly popular initiatives to create more jobs, cut taxes for families and lower health care costs.

“The President’s Build Back Better Act represents the greatest progress for North Florida families in 50 years,” Lawson said. “With transformative initiatives like child care, paid leave, tax cuts for families, climate action, we are investing in our families, economy and our children’s future. I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure this bill meets the needs of residents of Florida’s fifth district.”

Additionally Lawson also announced that he’s introduces legislation to protect Floridians from eviction during disasters. He introduced the Federal Disaster Housing Stability Act of 2021.

The legislation would apply an automatic eviction moratorium to all rental properties and foreclosure moratorium to all federally backed mortgages for locations under a federal declaration of an emergency. Rep. Val Demings of Florida is co-leading this legislation and the bill is supported by the National Housing Law Project and the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

“I have seen firsthand the toll that natural disasters, most recently with Hurricanes Michael and Irma, have placed on families across North Florida,” Lawson said. “Implementing a temporary eviction moratorium is crucial for recovery for many low-income households. Residents should not be burdened with locating a place to sleep at night during an already stressful time. The Federal Disaster Housing Stability Act is an important step in safeguarding our most vulnerable Americans during moments of tremendous need.”

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