Recently the U.S. Census released new Supplemental Poverty Measure numbers for 2012. Data show that Florida’s poverty problem is much worse than official poverty rates would have us believe. Using three-year averages for the years 2010-2012, SPM data show that Florida has the third-highest poverty rate among the 50 states with 19.5 percent of Floridians in poverty (about 3.7 million), well above the national average of 16 percent. The more conservative official poverty rate for Florida is still a troublesome 15.5 percent (about 2.9 million Floridians).
While the data continue to point to the growing severity of Florida’s poverty problem state and federal policies have simply ignored the problem. On Nov. 1 the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was cut by $5 billion, cutting monthly benefits anywhere from $11 to $36 depending on household size. This is worrisome as one in four American children lives in a household that receives SNAP. The average monthly benefit in Florida for SNAP is already a shockingly low $138.98 per person, an allotment of about $1.54 per meal. Nonetheless, Congress plans to cut at least an additional $11 billion of the SNAP budget over the next two years.
Likewise in Florida, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families offers an unlivable maximum monthly benefit for a family of three of $303, a figure that annually loses its purchasing power due to inflation. Children are also the main recipients of TANF in Florida, 81.8 percent of all recipients. However, Florida policymakers felt no urgency to help them as the state had $136.6 million in unspent TANF funds at the end of the 2012 fiscal year.
It’s clear that state and federal policymakers are actively making poverty worse in Florida and across the U.S. by making it difficult to apply and qualify for assistance and by cutting funds. In 2012 only one in four poor families received TANF benefits, most of which were no-parent or single-parent families while 15 percent of American families could not ensure the health of their family due to a lack of food.
Policymakers and voters alike should know that supporting SNAP and TANF not only helps the millions of Floridians suffering in poverty, many of whom are children, but it also contributes to economic growth. After all, one person’s spending is another’s income and we can all benefit from helping Florida’s poor to spend on the basic necessities they need to survive.
Alí R. Bustamante, visiting professor and research associate,
Florida International University, Miami