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Gov. Ron DeSantis highlights Hope Florida as critics push for better state safety nets

'This is just the right thing to do,' governor says
Posted at 5:10 PM, May 09, 2024

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — For another week, the governor's office has highlighted Hope Florida as a way to help more Floridians without a heavy taxpayer burden.

Thursday morning in Panama City Beach, Gov. Ron DeSantis and first lady Casey DeSantis touted new state data about the program while offering about $140,000 to area charities from the Hope Florida fund.

"This is just the right thing to do," the Republican governor said. "But it's also beneficial for taxpayers because as you get people off this government assistance, we are able to save taxpayers almost $100 million per year."

Hope Florida uses what are called "Hope Navigators" who act a bit like social workers, connecting those in need with help outside government, like churches and nonprofits.

Since starting as a pilot in 2020, Hope Florida has helped about 100,000. Among them, 73% of those who wanted jobs got them, 62% looking for housing secured it, and 68% in need of child care found it. Nearly 30,000 in total have reduced or eliminated the need for public aid.

"We make a connection, and then we get out of the way," the first lady said last week.

State

Hope Florida helping thousands, first lady Casey DeSantis says

Forrest Saunders
8:15 PM, May 02, 2024

The first lady has been leading the Hope Florida effort since 2021 and recently showed us how it works. The CarePortal website is a key aspect, where the need and the help are mapped out and triaged. Hope Navigators then coordinate the connections between them.

Critics, however, have said the state should be investing more in its welfare programs instead of trying to go around them.

"The reality is that often the Hope Navigators will not only refer people back to my legislative office but also to the same overworked state agencies where you have case workers that have (a) backlog," Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said.

Eskamani said she supports public/private partnerships, though she wanted to see Florida focus its resources on big things like expanding Medicaid. That, she said, or work on boosting agency caseworkers, call centers and clear service backlogs.

"We actually had a situation where somebody was homeless and trying to access services," Eskamani said. "They were told by (a) Hope Navigator to just continue sleeping under the bridge. I mean, that's just not an answer we want to give to someone."

The first lady sees things differently. Hope Florida, she said, is about tapping into previously untapped resources and giving the government more ways to help without government.

Casey DeSantis touts Hope Florida
Casey DeSantis says Hope Florida is providing help for those who need it without relying on the government to do so.

"They would basically say, 'Here's some government assistance. This is all I can do. We'll see you maybe in six months.' And that was it," Casey DeSantis said. "Now they are empowered to be able to make a difference in someone's life, they take on someone's story, and they have a personal goal to help this person reach economic self-sufficiency. So it becomes personal for them."

If you want to learn more about Hope Florida, how it works, how to help, or how to get it, the easiest way is through HopeFlorida.com or by calling 850-300-HOPE.