I want to share with you some information about the needs of the children of Florida. Last week was Children's Week at the State Capitol in Tallahassee, and I was present to participate with other Methodists--both United Methodists and members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church--in advocating for meeting the needs of our children. Also, I participated in a conference on poverty sponsored by the Florida Council of Churches.
Here are some statistics provided by Mr. William Rodriguez of Bethune-Cookman University. The median income for households in Florida is $44,736, and Florida is ranked 39th among the states in median income. Of the 18.5 million people in Florida, 5.9 million are below the federal poverty level (to be above it, a family of four has to have an income of $21,954). 1,061,000 people in Florida have food insecurity, and there are 456,000 more families which are on the margin of food insecurity. 1,500,000 children are in the school lunch program; 632,101, in the school breakfast program (an increase of 71.4% during the last ten years); and 144,916, in the summer nutrition program (an increase of 33.9% during the last ten years.
According to Mr. Ted Granger of the United Way, the economic situation in Florida is very challenging, and probably will continue to be so. We have had the deepest, longest recession since WWII. There are 3 legs of the Florida economy--population growth, construction, and tourism. Only tourism is rebounding. There was an actual population decline in 2009, and it will be another 20 years before the population reaches the growth rate of the 1970's. 300,000-400,000 houses in Florida are empty, setting back the construction industry for several more years.
The budget of the State of Florida will be between 60-70 billion dollars. 80% of general revenue is used for education and human services.
Those of us who were speaking to policy makers were emphasizing just a few things. One was to keep money in the budget for homelessness, which has increased for families. We were grateful that 7.5 million will be in the budget for this purpose. We do support giving people the opportunity to make a voluntary check-off donation for homelessness when applying for a driver's license.
We also advocate for keeping money in the housing trust fund which assists low income persons in purchasing and repairing their houses. At times, there has been as much as 900 million dollars in this fund. This provides jobs and also can be used for repairing older homes. It will be difficult to keep this program alive as the legislature faces a huge deficit of about 3 billion dollars.
And, we advocated for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's offer to move all the children's nutrition programs from the Department of Education to Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture will probably work more efficiently in this area, and the Commissioner wants to bring Florida's fresh farm products to the children for better nutrition. We think this is a great idea, and we hope it receives support from the legislature and the governor.
The Florida Conference has made the needs of Florida's children our common social witness. The needs of children in our state our great. Our congregations should pray about the needs in their own communities and discern how the Spirit of God may be leading them to get involved. All of us should also ask our law makers to not sacrifice our future by balancing the budget of the state on the back of all our children.