NewsState

Actions

Hope Florida helping thousands and saving state hundreds of millions, first lady Casey DeSantis says

'It’s helping people find a better place in life,' Casey DeSantis says
Posted at 8:15 PM, May 02, 2024

QUINCY, Fla. — The governor's office estimates Florida could eventually save nearly a billion dollars through help provided by the Hope Florida program.

Hope Florida has been around for three years after it was spearheaded by Florida first lady Casey DeSantis, who wanted to improve connections between people and aid outside of government.

She was helping bag groceries Thursday to highlight how the program works.

"I always say you can have the best resources, you can have the best programs, but if you don't know that they're there, what good are they?" DeSantis told us during a one-on-one interview.

The first lady officially launched Hope Florida in 2021 after it ran as a pilot program in a few key spots around the state. It was conceived as a better way to connect those in need with the private sector, nonprofits, and especially faith groups.

Hope Florida acts as a conduit to ensure aid in an area gets to where it's needed most. Organizers say it eases the burden on Florida's welfare programs.

"It's helping people find a better place in life," DeSantis said. "Helping them live up to their God-given potential, helping them on a pathway to economic self-sufficiency."

Since starting in 2020 as a pilot, Hope Florida reports it's helped more than 87,000 Floridians. Over 25,000 of them have cut down or eliminated their use of public aid for food or cash. In 10 years, the state said that'll equal a Florida savings of nearly $795,000,000.

At Hope Florida's core is its Hope Navigators like Kirsten Lovett.

"We are someone that actually gives people hope," she said.

When requests come, Lovett acts sort of like a social worker who helps determine the needs of a person or family. She enters it all into a website, the CarePortal.

From there, charities and churches enrolled with Hope Florida are alerted. If they think they can help with food, furniture or whatever the need might be, they say so. Navigators like Lovett then coordinate.

"A lot of times families hear no — that denial kind of discourages them," she said. "What we do is make those calls for them. When we call them back— all they hear is yes."

It was City Church in Tallahassee on Thursday that said yes. And Pastor Dean Inserra said Hope Florida is helping his church say it a lot more.

"It's real easy to know that there are needs in the big picture, generically," Inserra said. "But it can be so big you feel like you can't make a difference by taking the next step. CarePortal allows us to have a clear next step and say here are real people, with real problems, that are right next door."

Right next door, or even down the road in Quincy, where one family we met with, got the care it needed. That, and a little more hope, thanks in part to Hope Florida.

"If you are looking for hope, Hope Florida is a place to start, and it's 850-300-HOPE," DeSantis said.