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Spike in TANF assistance portends budget-bashing enrollment booms Florida in assistance programs

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(The Center Square) – Nearly 30,000 more Floridians than previously projected will seek assistance from a program that helps needy families, according to an analysis by a panel of state economists.

The Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) projects 87,000 people will receive cash assistance from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program during the 2021 fiscal year, which began July 1, a 26,172 increase from pre-COVID-19 forecasts.

The enrollment boost will drive up TANF’s $159 million budget by $35 million, REC projected.

TANF is a 23-year-old federal grant program administered by states to provide low-income families experiencing hardship a minimum level of support until they can get back on their feet.

The most a three-person family can receive under Florida’s TANF program for one year is $3,636.

With the TANF boost comes increased enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which REC also will provide projections for soon, and in Medicaid.

According to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), Florida’s Medicaid enrollment increased by 224,375 people, or nearly 2 percent, in June.

The agency reported more than 4.1 million state residents were enrolled in June, up from 3.8 million in February.

AHCA, which manages the state’s $30 billion Medicaid budget and 17 managed care plans, has warned the state may need to allocate an additional $1 billion to accommodate the program’s growth.

TANF is only one of the state programs and expenditures REC is reviewing methodically in anticipation of presenting Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers revised revenue estimates Aug. 14.

REC’s revised estimates could prompt the governor and state Legislature, possibly in a special session, to reassess components of the $92.2 billion budget.

Moody’s Analytics estimated in April that shutdowns and expenditures related to the pandemic could engender an $8 billion to $10 billion shortfall in the state’s budget.

The Florida Office of Economic & Demographic Research (OEDR) reported June 26 that state revenues between March and May were at least $1.45 billion below REC’s pre-pandemic forecasts.

Moody’s Investors Service, Fitch Ratings and S&P Global Ratings analysts all predict the state’s budget will need additional cuts once those REC projections are finalized.

Fitch’s Public Finance Group Senior Director Michael Rinaldi said DeSantis may be forced to convene a special session to implement the cuts because the state constitution does not allow him to trim more than 1.5 percent of the budget without lawmakers’ consent.

S&P credit analyst Carol Spain, noting the budget includes $6.3 billion in total reserves, said Florida is in relatively good shape to weather the pandemic, but spending cuts likely will be necessary for the state to retain its AAA bond rating.

“For such a highly rated state, we would look for a balanced approach,” Spain told Bond Buyer. “We expect that the revenue shortfall will be significant and the state will have to cut spending, but in the short-term at least they have reserves to tap into.”

Florida has also received $4.6 billion in federal assistance from the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress passed in late March.

CARES Act money can be used only for COVID-19-related expenses and must be spent by Dec. 31.

Florida has spent little of that money and likely will continue to hold onto the bulk of it until REC revenue forecasts are finalized, an additional stimulus package is approved or the rules are changed to allow the funding to be used for budget relief.

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