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Florida may turn down Trump’s plan to increase jobless aid

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Republican and Democratic legislators alike say they don’t understand why Florida hasn’t acted yet.

TALLAHASSEE — Although Florida has some of the lowest unemployment payments in the nation, Gov. Ron DeSantis remains undecided about whether to ask for the stripped-down federal benefits recently authorized by President Donald Trump.

Eleven states have applied for a $400 weekly extra unemployment payment program, which was initiated following Trump’s expansion of jobless aid via executive action. Florida, however, remains on the sidelines and it could stay that way.

The longer the DeSantis administration delays, the longer it will take for hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Floridians to receive the extra help Trump promised — if the state eventually does apply for it. There is also a risk that the limited federal funding available could run out before the state acts.

But the delay speaks to the conundrum that Trump’s actions pose for Florida, a state led by a key campaign ally of the president. While extending the benefits could pump tens of millions into the battleground state’s economy, the federal proposal could prove extremely costly — and unwieldy — for the state to carry out given the rules surrounding the effort.

When asked about the funding on Thursday, a spokesperson for DeSantis did not say when — or if — Florida plans to act.

“Florida is currently reviewing guidance issued by the Department of Labor and the Federal Emergency Management Administration to determine the best course of action that will preserve the state’s financial stability while providing important assistance to Floridians in need,” said Cody McCloud, a spokesperson for the governor.

Republican and Democratic legislators alike say they don’t understand why Florida hasn’t acted yet.

“We should be exploring every option and following the lead of other states that have been successful,” said State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg).

Florida’s tourist-based economy collapsed amid the coronavirus pandemic and the forced business shutdown. More than 3.5 million Floridians have filed jobless claims since mid-March — including another 66,000 who filed their initial claim last week. The state has paid out more than $13 billion in the last five months, but most of that money has been an extra $600 a week payment that Congress included in the CARES Act. That extra payment expired at the end of July, but the House and Senate have been at odds over a new coronavirus relief package.

Trump stepped in and authorized dipping into $44 billion worth of disaster relief funds to pay for a new round of extra benefits. DeSantis last week suggested he was considering having Florida apply to FEMA to receive what is being called “lost wages assistance.”

The problem, however, is that the FEMA aid requires 25 percent matching money from states. Initially Trump suggested states could use unspent money that was part of the CARES Act but DeSantis has told the White House that such an approach could not work. The governor plans to use the more than $5 billion sent to Florida to help pay for coronavirus response and to patch holes in the state’s budget.

Federal authorities then told states they could use money they are already spending on state unemployment benefits to count toward the matching requirement. But there are complications with that approach as well. The first obstacle is that money spent by the state must be on or after Aug. 1.

That’s a problem because Florida benefits — which pay out a maximum of $275 a week — are capped at 12 weeks. Congress authorized additional payments to workers whose state benefits are exhausted but those are paid entirely out of federal aid. Many jobless Floridians already have rolled over from the state program to the federal one. Florida’s budget is in tatters and there’s no other place the state could easily get the matching money. DeSantis suggested that the state could perhaps borrow money for its unemployment trust fund, but such a move risks triggering tax hikes on employers.

Rich Templin, director of politics and public policy for the Florida AFL-CIO, said all the complications with the extra aid show that it’s “not a workable solution.”

“This really seems like a campaign soundbite just to get us through November with no real understanding how this will work,” Templin said.

Rep. Evan Jenne (D-Dania Beach) saaid DeSantis still needs to act quickly and take care of Floridians reeling from the economic collapse.

“If Donald Trump is going to offer him a bucket and a mop then he needs to take the bucket and mop and clean up the mess,” Jenne said.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on August 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Gary Fineout came to POLITICO Florida in February 2019 after spending more than two decades covering Florida politics and government.


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The House GOP health care bill is a job killer, says a new report

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 In addition to potentially increasing the number of uninsured by 23 million and being unequivocally unpopular, House Republicans’ Obamacare replacement plan could leave nearly a million people unemployed.

That’s according to a new study published Wednesday by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University and The Commonwealth Fund projects, which finds that the U.S. economy could see a loss of 924,000 jobs by 2026 if the American Health Care Act (AHCA) becomes law.

The study concentrated on coverage-related and tax repeal policies included in the AHCA. Some of the key provisions it said could add to job losses would:

  1. Phase out enhanced funding for Medicaid expansion by restricting eligibility in 2020, and imposing either a block grant or per capita caps.
  2. Replace premium tax credits with age-based tax credits. The premiums can be five times higher for older individuals, compared to the current threefold maximum.
  3. Allow states to waive key insurance rules, like community rating and essential health benefits. (The study does account for the Patient and State Stability Fund, a $8 billion grant meant to relieve states of high-cost patients.)
  4. Eliminate the individual mandate tax penalty and premiums hikes for people who do not maintain continuous coverage.
  5. Repeal numerous taxes and tax increases, like a tax on high-cost insurance (i.e. the “Cadillac tax”).

Short-term gain, long-term pain

Federal health funding stimulates the economy and job creation. Health funds pay hospitals, doctor’s offices, and other providers, and these facilities pay for their own respective employees and other goods and services, like rent and equipment. Health care employees and private businesses then use their earnings to purchase consumer goods like housing and transportation, circulating this money through the larger economy.

The GWU study found government spending or subsidies stimulate the economy more than tax cuts. Tax cuts do help, but only in the short term. The way AHCA is set up is that the tax cuts take effect sooner than federal funding cuts, which is why some states see net job growth by 2018. Then, when federal dollars are eventually pulled, states begin to see job losses by 2026.

Who’s most affected:

The employment rate among states that expanded Medicaid eligibility could disproportionately be affected, because those states received more federal dollars. New York, a state that expanded Medicaid, could be among the hardest hit with 86,000 job losses by 2026.

Between April 2016 and April 2017, New York added 76,800 jobs and the educational & health services sector saw the largest job gains, at 46,600 jobs. “The Affordable Care Act [ACA] contributed to that [growth],” Ronnie Kauder, senior research director at the New York City Labor Market Information Service, told ThinkProgress.

Kauder emphasized that the ACA wasn’t solely responsible for New York’s job growth, even in the health care sector. Uncontrollable factors like the state’s growing aging population and increasing life expectancy contribute to job growth as well.

New York has reaped the employment benefits of comprehensive health care, said Kauder. That’s in part because ACA encouraged states to test new models of health care delivery and shifted from a reimbursement system based on volume of services to value of services.

For example, New York received ACA grant funding to test effective ways to incentivize Medicaid beneficiaries, who struggle with chronic diseases, to participate in prevention programs and change their health risks. With that grant, New York created new programs at existing managed care organizations, which required new hires. The grant created positions like care coordinators, who connect and follow-up up with patients and providers in the program, said Kauder. “They are heavy on the training, but not licensed professionals,” she said.

But while she attributed some of New York’s job gains to the ACA, Kauder was skeptical that the GOP replacement plan would kill as many of them as the GWU study projects. “We don’t know what the state response will be,” he said. “It could be worse in Kentucky.”

The largest health care provider in New York, Northwell Health, hires on average 150 people a week. Northwell chief public relations officer Terry Lynam told ThinkProgress he doesn’t think the ACA directly contributed to a spike in job growth; however, it did help expedite the provider’s move from hospitals to outpatient care centers, also called ambulatory care, in an effort to slow rising health costs.

“What [ACA] has done was contribute to the ambulatory net growth [by cutting costs],” said Lynam. Northwell Health has 550 outpatient locations.

Northwell Health has qualms with the House GOP bill; specifically its cuts to Medicaid and change in coverage rules. “We are in a stronger financial position to survive that kind of reduction in revenue,” said Lynam. “But what about small providers serving low income areas, who need those Medicaid [dollars]?”

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Amanda Michelle Gomez is a health care reporter at ThinkProgress.


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