Though nonprofits such as Farm Share and get millions of pounds of food to Florida families each year, food insecurity is a major problem in the Sunshine State.
More than 2.8 million Floridians, including 800,000 children, don’t get enough food to live an active, healthy life.
And it’s not just the homeless and destitute populations who are going hungry — a large portion of those served by food banks come from working families make that don’t qualify for assistance programs.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried toured the state to raise awareness on the issue and highlight the community-based organizations and state programs working to combat it.
“Many of Florida’s challenges stem from a lack of access to nutritious food. Hunger has a statewide impact, because nutrition, health, and wellness have direct effects on our communities and our economy,” she said during a stop at Orlando-based nonprofit Hebni Nutritional Consultants.
Fried wasn’t the only elected to highlight the issue this week, either. U.S. Rep. Al Lawson put forward a bill to tackle food insecurity on college campuses.
“Food insecurity is a real concern for many college students across our nation,” Lawson said.
“The significant increase in college tuition over the last decade has forced students to make a choice between buying food or paying for books and housing expenditures.”
The legislation has landed some allies by way of fellow Florida delegation members Darren Soto and Alcee Hastings. Both have signed on as co-sponsors.
While the government can help, so can innovative ideas backed by private industry. Health insurer GuideWell — the parent company of Florida Blue — is hoping to lead the pack on that front, but it needs people to pitch solutions tailor-made for their communities, even if they would only work at a “hyperlocal” level.
“Many people have to make the difficult choice between paying the bills and buying food,” said Kirstie McCool, executive director for GuideWell Innovation.
“Florida is filled with creative innovators, entrepreneurs, community leaders and passionate citizens. We are issuing the food insecurity challenge to tap into their innovative minds to find the best solutions to make every Florida community food secure.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson and the staff of Florida Politics.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
OFR head sued over sunshine – The same day Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis‘ top in-house lawyer issued a defense of releasing harassment allegations against suspended financial regulator Ronald Rubin, Rubin himself was sued for violating the state’s public records law. Kim Grippa filed a complaint in Leon County Circuit Civil court against Rubin “individually,” seeking a court order for the release of records that include text messages and calendars.
Drivers’ licenses for the undocumented – Sen. David Simmons, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, intends to file legislation allowing undocumented residents to legally work and drive. “These individuals deserve the opportunity to be able to drive on our streets, on our roads, after they prove they have insurance,” the Longwood Republican said. While supporting stronger borders, he said there already is a big problem with an estimated 700,000 to 800,000 undocumented people in Florida. Allowing people to live in shadows and work and drive illegally is a crisis, he said.
House hopes to defend marijuana law –Florida House General Counsel Adam Tanenbaum told an appellate court panel the chamber wants to defend a medical marijuana ‘implementing’ statute. He appeared before a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal; Circuit Judge Charles Dodson already ruled much of the law unconstitutional and denied the House’s motion to intervene. The appellate court also upheld Dodson’s preliminary order requiring state officials to start registering Florigrown and other medical-marijuana concerns to do business.
Chamber touts science-based solutions – The Florida Chamber of Commerce released a video focusing on research done on the state’s water systems by researchers at Florida Atlantic University. “With 5 million more people expected to call Florida home by 2030, science-based solutions are the only way to ensure Florida’s water future is sustainable and provides the quality of life Floridians and visitors deserve,” said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber. Some experts in the video pushed back against proposals to shift more of Lake O’s water into the Everglades.
Disability program redesign draws interest – Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Barbara Palmer may hold a second public meeting on a redesign of the Medicaid home- and community-based waiver program, known as the “iBudget,” because of intense interest. A meeting held Wednesday in Tallahassee had been the only one scheduled for the public. But because of the level of interest in modifications to the program that serves 34,500 Floridians with disabilities, Palmer said additional sessions may be scheduled.
Small towns snag grants
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a wave of Community Planning Technical Assistance grants this week.
“Community planning is critical to the long-term economic success of Florida communities across the state,” DeSantis said.
“These technical assistance grants will help provide for the development of strong, resilient local economies that attract businesses and support a highly-trained workforce.”
The Department of Economic Opportunity administers the grants and total up at $750,000. The money will head to 19 cities and counties across the state for projects ranging from map digitization to Hurricane Michael recovery.
“Gov. DeSantis’ dedication to building a stronger, more resilient Florida economy begins at the community level,” said DEO head Ken Lawson.
“DEO will continue to guide and assist communities with every available resource to make smart strategic investments so they can achieve their planning and economic goals.”
The Apalachee Regional Planning Council snagged the largest of the lot — $65,450 — and will use it to expand a website with local government maps and links to individual local government websites.
Governor: Keep trucking
DeSantis dropped by the Florida Trucking Association Annual Conference to highlight the state’s efforts to boost the industry.
The 2019-20 budget includes several items that should keep road warriors happy, such as $9.7 billion for the Department of Transportation’s work program, including $2.7 billion for new highway construction and $1.1 billion for bridge repairs.
Today I spoke at the @FloridaTrucking Annual Conference to discuss the important role the trucking industry plays in Florida’s overall economic development strategy and recovery efforts if disaster were to strike. Thank you for all your hard work. pic.twitter.com/fPA0zCVQC7
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) July 19, 2019
Also on the horizon: $10 million in funding dedicated for career and technical education programs through the newly created Florida Pathways to Career Opportunities Grant Program, a pot of money that’ll help students work toward careers starting in 9th grade.
“Truckers play an integral role in our state’s overall economic development strategy and recovery efforts if disaster were to strike,” DeSantis said.
“Florida has one of the most reliable transportation systems in the country, and we will never stop working for the men and women of the trucking industry or the continued success of Florida’s transportation system.”
With moving season on the horizon, Attorney General Ashley Moody says consumers need to do their due diligence before hiring some extra hands.
Her office warned of a couple of common scams, including companies that are quick to load boxes into the truck but demand some extra cash before they deliver it to the next stop.
— Fla. AG Ashley Moody (@AGAshleyMoody) July 17, 2019
“Moving can be a stressful experience. Scammers know this and exploit an already tense situation to coerce consumers into paying increased costs or fees just to get through the process, or to have their possessions safely returned,” Moody said.
“Before moving, do your research and take steps to ensure you do not fall victim to disreputable household movers.”
Moody said the best way to avoid scammers is to research moving companies with the Better Business Bureau, check for independent online reviews, and double-check that the company is licensed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
If something seems off — such as uniformed movers showing up in an unmarked truck — don’t be afraid to back out.
Instagram of the week
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(via @pbpost) Food insecurity is when someone doesn’t have access to nutritional foods or doesn’t know when they will eat their next meal. It affects 13 percent of Palm Beach County, or nearly 200,000 residents, according to Feeding America. It’s one of the wealthiest counties in the country but sees a higher food-insecurity rate than the national average, which is about 11 percent. Fried said she was aware of food insecurity long before she took office. In high school, she started a soup kitchen. Weekends during her junior and senior years were spent traveling to local vendors, collecting food on Friday evenings and handing it out Sunday morning. “Now I have the resources to help more and more people,” Fried said.
The week in appointments
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission — DeSantis announced the appointments of Steven Hudson and Rodney Barreto to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Hudson, of Fort Lauderdale, is the president and chief executive officer of Hudson Capital Group and owns Quail Creek Plantation in Okeechobee, a nearly 5,000-acre preservation dedicated to quail, turkey and pheasant hunting. Hudson is appointed to the remaining three years of a term. Barreto, of Coral Gables, is president and chief executive officer of Barreto Group. He previously served on the Commission for 10 years under Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist. Barreto is appointed to a five-year term. Both appointments are subject to confirmation by the state Senate.
Florida State College at Jacksonville — DeSantis appointed Jennifer Brown and reappointed Thomas McGehee Jr. and Wayne Young to the Florida State College at Jacksonville District Board of Trustees. Brown is an Army veteran who currently works as the executive director of KIPP Jacksonville Charter Schools; McGehee is executive vice president and owner of Mac Papers and has had a seat on the board since 1999; and Young, a Navy veteran, is the director of response and environmental programs for Jacksonville Electric Authority. All three were appointed to four-year terms. The Florida Senate must confirm them.
Florida State College at Jacksonville District Board of Trustees — DeSantis reappointed David Hawkins to the District Board of Trustees. Hawkins, of Jacksonville, is the chief executive of Stein Mart. He has served as a trustee at Florida State College in Jacksonville since 2017. Hawkins is reappointed to a four-year term. This appointment is subject to confirmation by the state Senate.
Tallahassee Community College District Board of Trustees — DeSantis reappointed Karen Moore and Eric Grant to the District Board of Trustees. Moore, of Tallahassee, is the chief executive officer of Moore, Inc., a national integrated communications firm, and has served as a Tallahassee Community College Trustee since 2007. She is vice-chair of the Florida College System Foundation, and is appointed to a four-year term. Grant, of Tallahassee, is president of Municipal Code Corporation. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps, is an active board member at the Maclay School Foundation and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. Grant is appointed to a four-year term. These appointments are subject to confirmation by the state Senate.
Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission — Senate President Galvano appointed Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, and Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat, to the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission. The 19-member commission was established this year to ensure a statewide observance of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020. The commission was set up with the passage of SB 1306, sponsored by Plantation Democratic Sen. Lauren Book and signed into law by DeSantis in early June. “I am honored to have Senators Benacquisto and Stewart representing the Senate in this important endeavor,” Galvano said.
Statewide Council on Human Trafficking Direct-Support Organization — Galvano appointed former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff to the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking Direct-Support Organization Board of Directors. The council aims to support human trafficking victims by developing policy recommendations for comprehensive programs and services. Bogdanoff, now a shareholder at Ft. Lauderdale-based lobbying firm Becker, will serve a term running through July 1, 2021.
First Lady talks rehab
First Lady Casey DeSantis stopped in Venice this week to talk about funding for mental health and drug rehab programs.
The trip started with a roundtable at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast alongside Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew, Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Simone Marstiller and state Rep. Ray Rodrigues.
After it wrapped, DeSantis called for the state to work alongside private, community based mental health and rehab programs.
“The private sector is hungry and wants to do good things,” she said. “They want to be able to fund things they know are going to make a difference.”
To help in that effort, DeSantis announced a new program — Hope for Healing Florida — which will compile information on state resources and direct those who need help to the right place.
“Hope for Healing Florida is an initiative about helping good people in crisis by leveraging the resources of our state agencies, private partners and our administration,” she said.
“Helping our youth and families avert drug addiction and address mental health issues will help them reach their full potential and lead healthier lives. And this is just step one.”
‘Lottery Week’ festivities
The Florida Lottery joined up with other lotteries across the country in celebrating “National Lottery Week” for the past few days.
If you haven’t heard of it, there’s a reason — 2019 is the first year of what lotteries are hoping to make an annual event.
Lottery week saw the state’s gaming operator highlight the different ways it gives back to Florida communities from the Panhandle to the Keys.
One stat they heralded: the $35 billion-plus they’ve pumped into the state education system since holding their first drawing in 1988.
“Our contributions to Florida communities go far beyond the numbers,” Florida Lottery Secretary Jim Poppell said. “Through the Bright Futures Scholarship and enhancements to education, we are able to create opportunities for students all across Florida.
“We also work to create lasting impacts in Florida communities through food drives, cleanups, mentorship programs and more. The Florida Lottery is proud to celebrate National Lottery Week and the partners, players, and retailers across our state that help us give back to Florida communities.”
Other daily themes included contributions to recognizing dedicated retailers; encouraging responsible gaming practices; and highlighting winners.
Cash for homes
The Department of Economic Opportunity has $75 million on hand to help local governments buy up homes damaged by Hurricane Irma.
The funding is part of the Rebuild Florida Voluntary Home Buyout Program and will be used to snap up properties from willing homeowners in high-risk flood areas and to match the financing of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP).
“Gov. DeSantis remains committed to the recovery of all communities impacted by Hurricane Irma,” DEO Executive Director Ken Lawson said.
“Through the Rebuild Florida Voluntary Home Buyout Program, DEO aims to reduce the impacts of future storms.”
The program, designed to help reduce the impact of future disasters, is pretty flexible — communities can buy contiguous properties or purchase them piecemeal.
To get a slice of the money, local communities must send in applications for the parcels they’re eyeing by Aug. 15.
Fallen officers honored
Most of the attention directed at HB 385 centers on the dismantling of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, but the transportation package did more than nix MDX.
Thanks to an amendment by Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, transportation facilities across the state are being renamed to honor Florida Highway Patrol officers who were killed in the line of duty.
“The brave men and women of the Florida Highway Patrol work day and night to keep our most dangerous roadways safe — sacrificing time with their own families, to protect and serve ours,” Book said.
Among the facilities is the I-10 interchange on Mahan Drive in Leon County, which is now renamed the “Trooper William ‘Bill’ H. Dyer Memorial Interchange.”
Dyer died in a car crash in 2011 at the age of 39. He had worked for FHP for 16 years.
Sen. Manny Diaz, a Hialeah Republican and the sponsor of the Senate companion bill, said he was “glad to team up with Sen. Book to honor our fallen law enforcement officers in this legislation. It’s the right thing to do.”
Maritime Partnership election
The Florida Maritime Partnership, a diverse group of business and labor interests representing the domestic maritime industry in Florida, announced its newly elected leaders for the organization.
Board members elected Christopher Smith of TOTE as president and David Wood of Crowley Maritime Corp. as vice president, according to a news release this week.
“My colleagues on the board and I are committed to advocating policies that support Florida’s domestic maritime industry, which sustains nearly 66,000 jobs and generates close to $15 billion for our state’s economy,” said Smith.
“In addition to contributing significantly to the economic well-being of our state, FMP member companies comprise a domestic maritime fleet that provides capacity and manpower to assist in times of national security, emergency preparedness and disaster recovery.”
Susan Allan of Overseas Shipholding Group, Inc., was elected to continue as treasurer.
The Partnership’s member companies include Crowley Maritime, McAllister Towing, Overseas Shipholding Group (OSG), SEACOR, TOTE, Transportation Institute, American Maritime Officers, American Maritime Officers Service, American Waterways Operators, Dredging Contractors of America, Eagle LNG, Great Lake Dredge & Dock, Hendry Marine, JAXPORT, Kirby Corporation, Marine Towing of Tampa, Moran Towing and Seafarers International Union.
Jailed juveniles ‘optimistic’
An FSU study on kids in the clink had some surprising results: the majority of youth were optimistic about their future.
“Kids are generally optimistic, even the not visited ones,” said Brae Young, and FSU doctoral student and the lead author on the study.
“The placement facilities in Florida do a great job at focusing on rehabilitation. A number of kids report a strong connection with staff workers. So, there may be this buffering effect. Although they’re still in confinement, it’s not always this terrible experience.”
Young added that the study was a bit unique in that most jail and prison research focuses on incarcerated adults.
“Because there’s not a lot of research on juvenile visitations, it was important to us to give a landscape of what visitation looked like,” Young said.
The study, based on data collected from more than 1,200 post-release youth, found nearly 75 percent of juveniles received at least one visit during their confinement in Florida facilities, and the bulk of them said those interactions were positive.
Researchers also found that kids who didn’t receive visits also had positive perceptions of their future success.
Leon lauded in Vegas
When Leon County officials touched down after the National Association of Counties’ 84th annual conference in Las Vegas they had some hardware in tow.
During the conference’s award ceremony, Leon County was recognized a dozen times for best-in-class programs in categories ranging from Infrastructure, Energy, and Sustainability to Risk and Emergency Management.
The county was also recognized for harnessing technology to increase services and efficiencies, which netted the 2019 Digital Counties Survey Award.
“We are very proud that our County services, programs, and technology all continue to receive the nation’s top honors,” Leon Commission Chair Jimbo Jackson said.
“Our citizens can be proud of the many award-winning County programs that touch their lives every day, from resiliency to innovation, and so much more.”
NACo picks winners after examining county government best practices from across the nation. Including the 12 new ones, Leon County has won 68 NACo awards since 2013.
“We applaud this year’s Digital Counties Survey winners for maximizing the value of technology in serving our residents,” NACo Director Matthew Chase said.
“Technology plays an important role in achieving healthy, safe and vibrant counties. The Digital Counties Survey demonstrates how we embrace cutting-edge approaches to strengthening our communities.”
Scooters hit Tally
Scooters hit Tallahassee streets this week.
On Monday, electric scooter rental company Lime launched their service in Florida’s Capitol with an event at City Hall Plaza.
Tallahassee joins more than 100 cities across more than 25 countries on five continents with Lime bikes.
Among those locations are Florida cities, including Ft. Lauderdale, Key Biscayne, Miami, Miami Lakes, Miami Shores, Miami Springs, North Bay Village, North Miami, Orlando, South Miami and Tampa.
The company said their battery-powered scooters would help Tallahassee reduce congestion and pollution by replacing cars for short and medium-length trips.
Lime was one of five scooter companies to bring their rentals in Tallahassee this week. Bird, Lime, VeoRide, Spin, and Gotcha each rolled out 200 two-wheelers as part of a pilot program aimed at making the city more environmentally friendly.
Since launching in their first city 18 months ago, the company estimates its customers have spared their cars about 15 million miles of wear and tear while also preventing 6,220 metric tons of carbon emissions.
Downtown wall ‘facelift-ed’
City officials worked alongside Oasis Center for Women & Girls “Girls Can Do Anything” campers this week to spruce up a downtown retaining wall marred by graffiti.
The team — which also included members of the Downtown Improvement Authority, Knight Creative Communities Institute and LeMoyne Arts — tackled the wall at the downtown Food Truck Court on Bronough Street, transforming it from a bland slab to a vibrant work of art.
City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox called the project “a wonderful experience for the girls, one that underscores the positive change that can occur when we work together for the betterment of our community.
“In addition to instilling the volunteer spirit in our youth and brightening up our downtown, we are hopeful that this artistic expression will help combat graffiti in the area.”
The art project is a precursor to a graffiti abatement pilot program greenlit by the commission earlier this year. The program aims to prevent and eradicate graffiti and will include funding for murals through a portion of code enforcement fines collected each year.