Legislators have cash; now have a heart

Colesha Courmier, 20, studying in her tiny apartment, is aging out of foster care.
Colesha Courmier, 20, studying in her tiny apartment, is aging out of foster care. Miami Herald Staff

The phrase usually is uttered in derision, with eye-rolling, sarcasm, a joke: Think of the children.

This time, it’s no joke. With less than four weeks left in the session, Florida lawmakers are flush with about $1 billion in additional revenue. But as reported by Mary Ellen Klas, of the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau, lawmakers are having a vigorous debate as to whether they should restore “$1 billion in cuts to the state’s tattered safety net for the state’s most vulnerable children, disabled and elderly.” That is what state senators propose. The House is arguing to return the money to Floridians through tax cuts, a proposal also backed by Gov. Rick Scott.

We’ll make this easy for them: Think of the children. The state continues to give too many at-risk kids short shrift. It’s an unnecessary and shortsighted lapse.

According to Florida TaxWatch, the state’s failure to adequately invest in the child-welfare system comes at a high cost. This organization, which ordinarily pushes for tax cuts and points out government waste, knows this is a bad deal that sqaunders state revenue and, we would add, human potential.

According to the Herald story, TaxWatch “found that the state spends $14 million a year training new child welfare workers because of a 37 percent turnover rate at the Department of Children & Families, yet the cost to the children in foster is much higher. Each child that spends a year in foster care costs the state $70,000 and, because of staff turnover, many children stay in foster care longer than they should.”

As a result, TaxWatch found that the odds that each child will find a permanent home by the time he or she reaches 18 drop to 4 percent, especially with a revolving door of caseworkers, each of whom has to play catch-up, then make what, they hope, are the right decisions to assure the child’s safety and security.

And if a child stays in foster care until the age of 18 — when most leave the system — he or she has one chance in four of getting arrested, a 50 percent higher chance of getting pregnant, a 33 percent chance of dropping out of school and a 65 percent chance of becoming homeless.

Why is the notion of creating future problems even a subject of debate for lawmakers sitting on millions upon millions of additional revenue?

And if they really care, they will also think of the old people. So many across the state are living — and dying — in need of in-home care or long-term managed care. Maybe lawmakers are smugly satisfied that when seniors fall off the waiting lists, it’s more likely to be because they died, not because they received the services.

There is a long list of Floridians that lawmakers should think about helping: the disabled who, too, are stuck on long waiting lists, awaiting care; at-risk kids who will benefit from access to Voluntary Pre-K, which is being funded at a lower rate that it was implements 11 years ago; corrections workers with families to feed. They haven’t had a raise in years.

In his State of the State speech last month, Gov. Scott acknowledged that, “For those in dire need, we need to provide a safety net,” but that “Government assistance must be the very last resort … Government does not create prosperity.”

However, government should not create hardship, either, or fund services and programs just enough to guarantee failure. It’s a waste of money and human capital. To Florida’s lawmakers we say, Think about that.