Oil Spill's Impacts on Cash Assistance Still Unknown
Around the State
A reliable estimate of the amount of money needed to satisfy cash assistance and Food Stamp requests from Florida families in dire straits because of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill won’t be known for months.
Staff from the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research and the Florida Department of Children and Families, which administers the cash assistance fund, say they don’t have the data needed to estimate how much of a hit the state’s social services funds will take.
And they won’t get that data until October, they said.
The state has predicted that the demand for money from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federal block grant to states for cash assistance, Food Stamps and other purposes assisting low-income families, will fall by 3.6 percent between the current budget year and 2013-2014. The program is expected to spend $191.6 million on cash assistance this year, and $184.2 million in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
The presumption analysts made is that the need for the cash assistance program will start to fall next year, as the economy recovers from the long recession.
The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster that started with the explosion of the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig April 22, and uncertainty over whether Congress will extend federal unemployment benefits to 75 weeks, is casting doubt on those figures. Florida is already behind the rest of the nation in striving for economic recovery, LaCrosse said.
“They’re probably shutting off the national benefits before we’re ready for it,” said James LaCrosse, a staff member of the Office of Economic and Demographic Research.
LaCrosse said that the decision not to extend federal benefits could halt the fall in cash-assistance payments, but right now the state seems to be on track to reduce them.
Exactly how much demand for cash assistance will rise because of either the spill or the possible decision not to extend benefits is unclear, and the team intends to collect more data for its October conference, members said.
The Department of Children and Families has started color-coding and tagging cash-assistance requests to track how many are coming from Northwest Florida, starting with the week before the spill as a baseline.
“The BP claims process and the cleanup jobs have been enough to keep people where they are, said Jennifer Lange, director of the ACCESS program at the Department of Children and Families. “What we’re seeing, oddly, is that noncoastal people’s applications are up."
Individuals on the Gulf Coast have been able to use the BP claims process to make up for economic losses, Lange said. Cleanup opportunities have also allowed fishermen to earn income. Those suffering the most are businesses, Lange said.
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