- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


March 21

Miami Herald says Mary McLeod Bethune deserves to be the first black woman in Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.:

As ordered by Gov. Rick Scott, a statue of Mary McLeod Bethune, who founded a school that would eventually become historically black Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, will now represent Florida at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. That’s welcome news.

Bethune’s statue will be the first African-American woman in Statuary Hall. In the year of the woman, that’s a good move. Better yet, Bethune’s arrival means the removal of the statue of St. Augustine native Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. Another sign of the times.

The campaign in Tallahassee to replace Kirby Smith began with last year’s white nationalist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, which placed under a harsh spotlight all Confederate memorials in southern U.S. states and re-opened the old, divisive wounds of race, racism and even slavery.

Until then, the National Statutory Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol remained largely a secret home to memorials to the old Confederate States of America. That’s slowly changing. Each state is allowed to send two statues to the Capitol. Twelve of the 100 statues commemorating prominent individuals from the 50 states honor people who either fought or defended the Confederacy. Of course, there are no blacks or Hispanics representing any state in the Hall.

Bethune’s arrival changes that unacceptable line-up. As one of two Florida representatives, there’s no doubt Bethune’s influence in the lives of Florida’s black residents - first, as an educator, then as a civil-rights and human-rights activist and finally as an influential adviser to both President Franklin D. and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

The story goes that as a child, Mary McLeod wanted to be a missionary, but turned her attention to the classroom when the Presbyterian Church rejected her application to serve in Africa. Her dream of opening her own school brought the young teacher and her husband, Albertus Bethune, to Daytona Beach, where she established a school for black girls. The school would become Bethune-Cookman University, one of three private historically black colleges in Florida.

She was an activist in the 1930s, when that was unheard of for a black woman. She founded the National Council of Negro Women, a forum seeking human rights and social justice for black women, and was also appointed to several national commissions during the presidency of Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge and Franklin Roosevelt; she became a friend and adviser to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Choosing her statue for the Hall is a bold statement that recognizes Florida’s rich history and the role blacks have played in it. Ironically, black women in America are still lagging behind when it comes to social and economic status.

Last year, The Status of Black Women in the United States, analyzed the broader experience of black women in categories like political participation, employment and earnings and well-being.

It found that although black women vote at high rates - they were credited as a bloc with helping defeat U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama - and they have made significant improvement in earning college degrees and are succeeding in opening their own businesses, they continue to be underrepresented in elected office, earn less than white men and women and are twice as likely as white women to be incarcerated, the report says.

How about the state of Florida, in honor of Bethune, start working on changing those numbers?

Online: http://www.miamiherald.com


March 20

The Florida Times-Union says Florida has major issues with affordable housing:

Florida has long had a problem with affordable housing.

The private market cannot support housing for many people around the poverty line. As a result, Florida has a large number of people paying about half their income to rent. You can’t survive that way.

This is a national problem, as the National Low Income Housing Coalition points out in a new report titled “Gap.”

“The lack of access to an affordable home has devastating long-term impacts on the lowest income families,” Diane Yentel, CEO of the housing coalition, said in a news release.

“Housing first” has been proven to be the best approach to getting people out of homelessness - and to keeping them from returning to that dire state.

Housing instability hurts a family’s mental and physical well-being.

A few facts:

. Seven in 10 people with very low incomes spend more than half of their income on rent and utilities.

. A household is considered severely cost burdened if it spends more than 30 percent of its income on rent and utilities.

. No state has an adequate supply of housing for very low income households.

. Florida is one of the worst in the nation, however, with 911,000 of the poorest residents paying more than half their income to housing.

. The worst state for affordability is Nevada with 15 affordable units per 100 low income families; the best is Maine with 59 of 100.

Clearly, even the best leaves lots of room for improvement.

This is not about rich or poor states; it’s about states with disparities between incomes and rents.

So Mississippi, for instance, is one of the better states with 57 affordable homes for every 100 very low income households. Florida, in contrast, has just 27 of 100.

Who are the people in these very low income households? About half of them have jobs, but they are low-wage service jobs that often don’t provide enough income for affordable housing.

A worker earning the federal minimum wage must work 94 hours per week (more than two full-time jobs) to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment.

They often are disabled or senior citizens. Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to have very low incomes.

Federal funding for HUD programs has not kept pace with the needs. Public housing received $1.8 billion less in 2017 than 2010, adjusted for inflation.

Programs include a Housing Trust Fund that provides block grants to states with a Low Income Housing Tax Credit.

Housing Choice Vouchers give people more choices while capping their housing costs at 30 percent of income.

And the vouchers typically are less costly than new construction.

Locally, Florida has been a leader in providing incentives for affordable housing through its innovative Sadowski Fund. Since 1992, a portion of documentary stamps on housing sales go into a trust fund that is used for affordable housing. A total of 70 percent of the funds are shared with counties on a proportional basis while 30 percent go in state housing trust fund.

It’s brilliantly devised - the higher the sales price, the higher the trust funds. Every dollar devoted to the program is matched by up to $6 in private sector loans and equity.

The program has been among the most successful in state history, and it brings together stakeholders as diverse as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, AARP of Florida and Habitat for Humanity.

If fully funded at $314 million, more than 30,000 jobs would be created - which is why cutting the funds is so mystifying. The impact on the housing market would be $4 billion.

But this effort has been undercut for years by a Legislature that sweeps many of the Sadowski funds into general revenues. This is understandable in a recession or following a natural disaster, but it shouldn’t be common even during good times.

Locally, City Councilman Bill Gulliford is leading an examination of the issue.

Gulliford clearly understands the importance of solving this dilemma - and it’s perfectly summed up in the final words of the housing coalition’s report:

“Our nation must make the critical investments in affordable housing needed to help the economy, our communities, families and children thrive.”

Online: http://www.jacksonville.com


March 19

Orlando Sentinel says the details of health care don’t belong in the state constitution:

Now that the Florida Legislature has concluded its regular session for the year, it’s no longer sharing the spotlight with the state’s Constitution Revision Commission, which launched its latest series of meetings Monday. But the two bodies are not exactly Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

The Legislature meets at least once a year to work through the details of state policy. It writes, rewrites and repeals state laws. Any mistakes it might make one year can be corrected as soon as the next year.

The commission convenes once every two decades in a yearlong process to offer voters a short list of proposed amendments to Florida’s primary governing document. Its proposals, if approved by voters, can become permanent fixtures in the constitution.

There are some proposals among the three dozen or so the commission is scheduled to consider this week and next that don’t belong anywhere near the constitution. They deal with evolving areas of policy and regulation, rather than enduring governing principles.

One misplaced proposal could have a large, lasting - yet uncertain - impact, particularly in Central Florida: Proposal 54, which would eliminate the state’s certificate of need requirement for hospitals. Commissioners would be foolish to sideline legislators and regulators in this area.

Since 1973, Florida has required some health care providers, including hospitals, to demonstrate there is an unmet need before they build or expand their facilities or services. The purpose is to prevent providers from duplicating services in the same market, which can erode the quality of those services and reduce access to other services.

For years, some Florida legislators have tried to eliminate the CON requirement. They have argued that allowing more health care competition would bring down prices. It sounds like Economics 101, but health care isn’t a free market in Florida. Providers are heavily regulated, and would continue to be even if CON were abolished. Government health programs for the poor and the elderly are major players.

CON in Florida can be an expensive, cumbersome, time-consuming process. Yet Florida legislators intent on scrapping it have never persuaded a majority of their colleagues in both chambers to go along. A bill to repeal the requirement during this year’s legislative session passed the House but died in the Senate.

Gov. Rick Scott, a former private hospital executive, is not a CON fan. So one of the governor’s 15 appointees on the 37-member commission, Orlando lawyer Frank Kruppenbacher, has sponsored a proposed amendment that would effectively eliminate CON for hospitals in many Florida counties.

Proposal 54, as amended last week, declares the state may not prohibit a hospital from entering any county where any current hospital has an infection rate above the statewide average. But a hospital’s higher-than-average infection rate doesn’t necessarily mean its quality of care is substandard. It might be serving an area with poorer, sicker patients who are more vulnerable to infections.

Eliminating CON would open markets throughout Florida to hospital expansion. Fast-growing areas like Central Florida would be especially attractive. But if the entry of a new hospital spurs consolidation among other players to compete, prices could go up instead of down. If it reduces the number of procedures at an existing hospital, quality could go down. If it decreases the revenue a hospital has been using to subsidize otherwise unprofitable services, it could diminish access to care.

While most states have CON requirements, 14 don’t. It’s difficult to draw general conclusions from their experiences - each state is different - but CON supporters and opponents specialize in cherry picking data to bolster their positions. That’s too flimsy a foundation to justify changing the Florida Constitution.

Online: http://www.orlandosentinel.com

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