- [Announcer] This is a production of WEDU PBS, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota.
- Coming up next for Florida's service and tourism workers, it's increasingly hard to pay for life's basic necessities.
The United Way is out with a new report.
The legislature takes its strongest steps yet to crack down on undocumented immigrants.
Tallahassee wants to keep all the governor's travel records secret and the lawsuits mount in the battle between the governor and Disney.
All this and more right now on "Florida This Week".
(tense orchestral music) Welcome back.
Some of the hardest working people in our state are in the tourism, healthcare, service, and agricultural sectors.
And despite their hard work, they're having trouble paying for the necessities.
According to a new study by the United Way, more and more people in Florida are living paycheck to paycheck.
13% of Floridians earned below the federal poverty level.
32% were in households that earned above the poverty level, but not enough to afford the basics in the communities where they live.
And together, that's 45% of households in Florida.
The United Way calls those who live just above poverty, ALICE.
ALICE stands for asset, limited, income, constrained, employed, in other words, the working poor.
We're joined now by Jessica Muroff.
She's the CEO of the United Way Suncoast and the United Way did the study.
Jessica, nice to meet you.
- Very nice to see you.
- Thank you for coming.
So when we talk about the ALICE families, who are they?
Describe generally who they are.
- They're your neighbors.
They're the people that you see in the grocery store who help you.
They are people that you work with.
I mean, ALICE, I mean, as 45% of our region in our community, you know someone who falls within the ALICE threshold.
- [Rob] You track this, has it been getting worse?
- So, over the last couple of years, so as we emerged from the pandemic, our ALICE numbers increased by 2%.
We were 43% in our study from 2019 and that increased to 45%.
Over 600,000 families in our region fall or families and individuals fall within this threshold.
- You're talking about people that are essential to our lives, too.
I mean, it's...
These are people that we rely on in hospitals and the service industry, everywhere we go.
- Absolutely, teachers, nurses, I mean, some of our retail, some of our state's top 20 professions have a significant number of individuals who fall within the ALICE threshold because they do not earn enough to be able to afford a basic household budget.
- Now, this is especially a problem among people of color, young people, single persons, and seniors.
Let's start with seniors.
Why are seniors an increasing component of this group?
- Well, because they're on a fixed income.
And when you think about the inflation has impacted all of us, and the rising cost of housing in the Tampa Bay area, which increased 26% year over year, that puts, you know, undeniable pressure on their ability to be able to afford things.
So that we actually saw within seniors fall within the ALICE threshold, that increased 15% since our last study.
- You know, a lot of seniors are no longer on fixed pensions that they rely on their savings instead of pensions, the old auto workers that got a defined benefit after they retired.
- Well, there still, it's out outpacing their way.
Their expenses are outpacing what they have saved.
And especially when expenses keep continuing to grow and have sustained that growth over the last couple of years.
- And young people are also on this list.
They're especially at risk.
Why is that?
- It is wages.
I mean, when you think about how a family of four needs to earn $88,000 in order to be able to afford a basic household budget.
So it's because when you add in all of just the very bare minimum things, housing expenses, food, healthcare, a basic cell phone plan, that adds up to that $88,000 number.
- [Rob] Utilities, - Everything.
- And transportation, childcare, all that stuff.
Within this region, and the five-county region that you serve immediately around Hillsborough County, four out of five single female-headed households are below the ALICE threshold.
That's a huge number.
- It is.
- It is, I mean, again, if you consider how much it costs just to make ends meet and not having wages that support that in addition to the continuous increasing costs, you know, it has a significant impact.
And then if you also think about the stimulus supports that so many families received when we were at the height of COVID, the tax credits, that really helped out a lot of families.
So if you considered those benefits and those tax credit programs, that actually reduced the ALICE threshold for that family of four to $73,000.
But those ended, and so as we're emerging and those programs sun-setting, we're gonna see more and more families and individuals continue to struggle.
- So would you describe these folks as at-risk?
At-risk for things like eventually becoming homeless?
- I would say at-risk for being thrown financially off course.
And that has a snowball effect, right?
So if you think about it, in our country, less than 50% of Americans have $500 worth of savings for any type of emergency.
And so when you think about that fact, people who have an emergency, say it's a broken down car, a medical emergency, that, and you don't have the savings to help sustain you, that can throw you financially off course and start a snowball effect that really has a significant impact that could lead to homelessness.
- So how does the United Way fit into this?
- Well, we very much so have programs that help in the immediate support needs for our community.
So, you know, we support 211 to connect people to resources.
We have neighborhood centers in communities of need where they can walk to the center and get all the support and services through our partners that they need.
But we also have those preventative measures, too.
So we invest a lot in early learning and supporting our families to making sure that their children have quality early learning opportunities.
We also support families with financial stability through our volunteer income tax assistance program, which just wrapped up.
We did over 9,000 tax returns and our draft numbers look like we're bringing over $11 million back to this community to help families.
- We just have a few seconds, but you talked about early learning.
One of the ways to avoid getting in this predicament is to get better education.
And that's why early learning is so important, right?
- It is.
The number one marker is reading on grade level by third grade.
And of course the pandemic had a negative impact on that for our children across the state.
And less than 50% of children are meeting that measure.
And so we have to do more to help to make sure, because if they were reading on grade level at third grade, beyond that, they are reading to learn.
And so it is critically important for their future that we invest in that.
- And people can go to the United Way website and see this study for themselves.
- Absolutely, and they can see all the support and resources.
We partner with more than a hundred nonprofit organizations across the region and through many different programs.
And you can go to our website and learn more about all of this.
- Jessica Muroff, thanks a lot.
- Thank you.
Good to see you.
- Good to see you, too.
(upbeat electronic music) (upbeat electronic music fades) - Joining us now on our panel, Deborah Tamargo is the immediate past President of the Florida Federation of Republican Women.
Darryl Paulson is a Emeritus Professor of Government and Politics at USF St. Petersburg.
Trimmel Gomes is a journalist and President of Gomes Media Strategies.
And Daniel Ruth is the USF Honors College Visiting Professor of Professional Practice.
On Thursday, a federal jury found former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum not guilty of lying to FBI agents, but failed to reach a verdict on 18 other wire fraud counts.
Jurors could not reach agreement on allegations by federal prosecutors that Gillum and a political advisor illegally steered political contributions to their personal accounts during his 2018 run for governor.
Gillum came within 32,000 votes of defeating Ron DeSantis in that 2018 election.
And Deborah, what do you think about the outcome of the Gillum trial?
- Well, I think he was boasting of his innocence yesterday when in fact, you had a deadlock on fraud and conspiracy.
They are going to retry him on that.
So there are many politicians during his error in right before him, Democrat mayors of Tallahassee and lobbyists that are serving time right now for similar offenses.
So I say wait and see, he may join them.
- Darryl, what's your take on it?
- Well, it's a great disappointment to the Democratic Party in many respects because Gillum was the Moses in the wilderness.
He was gonna lead the Democrats out of this long period of time where they couldn't win anything, including dog catcher.
And they were sure that he was gonna win the governor's race.
And he should have won the governor's race, I think there's little doubt about that.
But he left several million dollars in his campaign account at the end, wanted to hold it back for some strange reason.
But if you get to the heart of it, you know, it's a disappointment for Democrats because they looked at Gillum as the person who would be their leader for the next 15, 20 years, somebody who could once again restore credibility to the Democratic Party and even possibly have Gillum become a national leader for the Party.
But if he's the Moses in the wilderness, he's gonna be wandering around for the next 40 years 'cause he's got a lot of trouble.
- Well, the Democrats still don't know who their new leader's gonna be.
Well, the Florida legislature adjourned on Friday.
It was a momentous session in which the governor got almost everything he asked for.
The legislature has okayed tough new penalties and restrictions on undocumented immigrants.
- [Narrator] He first announced his immigration proposals at an event earlier this year in Jacksonville, where he blamed President Biden for the influx of refugees on the US southern border.
The bill strengthens employment regulations and allows state law enforcement officials to conduct random audits of businesses that are suspected of hiring undocumented workers.
In addition, all businesses with at least 25 employees or more would be required to use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of new hires.
The House and Senate did refuse to include DeSantis' call for repealing the 2014 law, extending in-state tuition to dreamers.
They are the undocumented students who have grown up here in Florida.
About 772,000 undocumented people live in Florida right now.
That's according to the Migration Policy Institute.
65% of them have lived in the US for five years or more.
- Trimmel, what do you think the biggest significance of this new immigration law is?
- Well, what this does is give DeSantis what he wants, which is a talking point, something that he can use on the presidential stage when he launches his bid for the White House, so he can stand toe to toe and talk about Biden and compare notes and say what he has done here in Florida.
DeSantis has repeatedly pushed anti-immigration measures from sanctuary cities and culminating to this bill.
So to him it's a win, it's something that he will use.
It generates his base and he's excited about it.
And it comes at the cost of undocumented immigrants who are concerned.
- Dan, the last time an immigration bill was passed, the governor flew about 48 people from Texas to Massachusetts at a cost to state taxpayers of $1.6 million.
- Also I think illegally or improperly using the FDLE to facilitate this and to lie to those people in Texas at the behest of the FDLE.
They had jobs were awaiting them and there would be a nirvana once they got to where they were getting.
And it was all just a scam.
You know, employers had been required to use E-Verify for a long time.
I mean, there's nothing particularly original about putting this in a bill when employers need to do it anyway.
So it's just, I think, more sugarcoating on his political campaign.
- Deborah, I wonder does this impact the agricultural industry?
Because a lot of people who are harvesting our crops are undocumented immigrants.
- No, they are not undocumented, maybe by choice, but there is a green card that can be given to agricultural workers.
They can go back and forth during the seasons.
So they are legal while they are here.
They're provided housing and healthcare, and many other quality of life benefits.
Their children are in school.
And so it doesn't impact- - So you think agricultural workers have it really good here in Florida?
Is that what you're saying?
- Well, I'm saying they are legal when they come through the process and they do not have to walk across the border.
Are they undocumented that choose to work in the fields?
Is this going to impact those that hire them and don't go through the process?
Yes, and it should.
They put themselves in that situation where they could come legally.
They choose not to perhaps because they have a criminal record.
- It's not these people are taking over jobs at WEDU or they're replacing university professors.
They're doing jobs that most people don't want to do.
And so this harvesting crops is backbreaking, horrible, difficult labor.
And I would dare say that there's not a single member of the legislature that would last two hours in the fields picking crops.
- Well, just some context as to why this issue exists in the first place.
I mean, part of it is just the numbers of undocumented immigrants who are coming to the United States.
I mean, last year in the southwest United States, it was 2.75 million individuals that crossed the border in the southwest.
That's a million more people than ever crossed the border at any point in time.
Now you've got, of course, this title 42 or whatever that's gonna expire in another week or two and they expect a flood of immigrants crossing at that point in time.
That's part of it.
The other part, of course, if you've got undocumented immigrants, people who live in these states who came here following the process, following the rules, say, why should they get the same benefits I do?
Why should they take away jobs that I could get?
And now I'm competing with them.
- But Darryl, isn't this a federal issue?
I mean, can Ron DeSantis actually do anything significant about it?
Or is as Trimmel said, this is like another check mark in his?
- Well, it's a federal issue, but it's also a state issue because another point is to why states are so supportive of cracking down on illegal immigration is they look at the cost to the states themselves.
You know, it's a half a dozen states that get most of these illegal immigrants.
And that means medical costs that they have to pay for, educational costs that they have to pay for.
They say, you know, if the federal government pony'd up and paid for these expenses, there might be less resistance to it.
But when the states have to pay for this, you can see why they've got a reason to crack down and get tough.
- All right.
Well, Florida's Republican-controlled legislature agreed this week to shield the publicly funded travel records of Governor Ron DeSantis.
- [Narrator] The new measure gives his administration a way to block public records requests from the media and political opponents ahead of an expected run for president.
The far-reaching bill would not only apply to DeSantis' future travel, but also could be used retroactively to deny access to information on trips that he's already taken.
- Deborah, I know supporters of this say it's a matter of security for the governor, but I'm wondering about why keep secret past travel records?
- Well, it is a matter of security, not just for the governor.
The actual bill is a public records transportation and protective services for our Supreme Court, our Speaker, our President of the Senate, our Attorney General and entire Cabinet.
We're living in a very dangerous time.
We are living when there is so much violence against political leaders that something needed to be done, so it shields those records.
Most of the records, and there'll be interviews when there are public appearances and so forth, but shielding that transportation component, protective service component is essential to keeping them safe.
And then when they are at their destination, they are usually open to interviews and so forth.
But that's after they're in a contained facility.
- Every governor in this state in the history has had security and it's fine.
I don't think we've ever had a governor assassinated in this state.
The FDLE and the governor's security detail did a wonderful job.
If you have the security concern, okay.
But after the trip is over, I wanna know who he met with.
I wanna know where he went.
I wanna know if he was out grubbing for money.
And the public has a right to know that.
This is every single legislative session we have a little bit more chipped away at our sunshine laws.
And this is another great example of that.
The public has a right to know who the governor, who the governor is meeting with and where he's going.
- Well, people do have the right to know.
And Florida, at one point in time had a very highly regarded public records law.
And governor after governor has cracked down on this to try and get their way on this particular issue.
If security was the issue, and I don't believe it is, I mean, it may be a justification, but it's not the issue.
If it was, you know, when Jeb Bush was governor, his brother was the President of the United States.
You had 9/11.
If anybody deserved extra protection, it would be Jeb Bush.
But you know, they didn't monitor every one of his plane flights.
Many of his plane flights, in fact, they found out, landed very close to his home in South Florida.
So it was very convenient for him.
- Trimmel, what do you think about this?
You're up there, you're a reporter in Tallahassee.
If I may, like, if security is a real concern, we could argue that security is a concern for them to keep this information private.
What if the governor is compromised?
What if these elected officials who will now be shielded from us being able to know what they are up to are taking someone that could like, you know, compromise their situation.
We need to know who they're working with.
We need to know who they've met with.
This is shielding us from having any information at all.
We have little information as it is.
We don't even get the governor's schedule.
It comes at eight o'clock at night for what happens earlier in the day.
That doesn't help anyone.
The press can't prepare, can't show up for a press conference.
This is further like, you know, if he would like to be private, he should like, reconsider being in this office 'cause this office requires you to be public.
And that's the argument from his opponents on this issue.
- All right, well, the battle between Governor DeSantis and Disney, one of the state's largest employers, escalated this week just days after Disney sued Florida's governor in federal court for what it described as retaliation for opposing the state's so-called don't say gay bill.
Disney World's new governing board made up of governor DeSantis' appointees, filed the state lawsuit against the entertainment giant.
- [Narrator] That lawsuit seeks to maintain the new Governor DeSantis' appointed board's control of design and construction in the district that governs Disney World's 25,000 acres.
The previous Disney controlled board, which held power for more than 50 years, tried to out-maneuver DeSantis voting to turn over their power back to the Disney Corporation earlier this year before the DeSantis' appointed board members could even hold their first meeting.
The dispute between Disney and DeSantis is over the parental rights, or don't say gay law.
The legislature voted to expand that law to all grades this week.
Under the just-passed law in high schools now, teachers will not be allowed to discuss sexual orientation or gender identity in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.
Teachers also will not be able to address transgender students by the pronouns of their choice.
So Dan, the governor and his supporters say that this is not retaliation against Disney.
(Dan laughing) - Of course it is.
He admitted it in his book that it was retaliation.
I'll bet you, I'll bet you anything, every lawyer in this country who's a litigator is drooling at the prospect and envious at the prospect of representing Disney, if they could.
If I was a lawyer, I couldn't wait to get him into a deposition because he is going to lose.
He violated Disney's first amendment rights, it's as simple as that.
He never had a problem with Disney in 2018 when he ran.
He never had a problem with Disney during the first three years of his administration.
He only began to have a problem with Disney when this issue came up about don't say gay.
He's punishing them for their first amendment rights.
In another life, I had some business dealings with Disney.
Let me tell you something, you look at this, you say, "Oh, the Mickey Mouse and snow..." Isn't that nice?
Isn't that pretty?
You have to think of it this way.
Think of an amusement park being run by Tony Soprano.
These people are knee-cappers.
They are tough, brutal executives and lawyers.
They are gonna hand DeSantis his keister by the time this thing is over, and very quickly, it's gonna cost the state of Florida millions and millions, and millions of taxpayer dollars to defend itself in an utterly useless, frivolous lawsuit.
- And Trimmel, the Tampa Bay Times reported it's already cost at least $16.7 million.
It went to lawyers that are politically connected to the DeSantis administration and the Republican Party.
That was a report from December.
So we don't know how big that number has gotten since then.
- Probably twice.
- So what's your take up there from Tallahassee about Disney?
Okay, I think we lost Trimmel.
Deborah, what do you think?
Was it retaliation?
- It was not retaliation.
Was it a red flag?
And sometimes something that someone says triggers another person to drill down deeper and look at some of the business practices.
Disney World's profit last year was $2.2 billion.
Okay, I don't think there's a person out in our viewing audience today that doesn't think they should be paying their fair share.
- [Rob] Do you think they're not paying their fair share?
- I think they are not and that's what this special, you know, incentives were all about.
The CEOs actually from the management side, you start at about 2.2 million a year and you go to the CEO who makes 32.5 million a year, while the Disney employees are making $14 an hour.
So you talk about tourism and the low wages.
- Darryl, what- - They're the ones suffering- - An interesting headline in tomorrow's paper that the head of the Florida Federation of Women is arguing against high profits for corporations.
I mean, that's, that is a story.
I don't think it's a big story.
- [Deborah] Oh, we are not.
- I think it's intimidation.
Obviously, if they can intimidate a large corporation like Disney, they certainly can intimidate the common person in Florida, and that's the real fear.
- They're shutting up- - Who's next?
- So they can go after big sugar next, so they can go after any company that happens to say something that he doesn't like.
He can take 'em to court, affect their tax.
They pay, they pay billions of dollars in taxes, Deborah.
- This is about taxpayers paying - They're the largest employer in the state.
- For some of the largest employers who are getting special benefits that have not been adjusted.
Had they been adjusted, had they complied to other corporations we bring here with incentives for employment and wages, high wages, not $14 an hour.
- The economic impact of Disney World in central Florida brought about Universal, Sea World.
It's had a ripple effect.
It's been an enormous economic engine for the state of Florida.
- And that's wonderful.
And it was needed to position them.
They're in a position, they make the profits off of the- - If a corporation makes, if a corporation makes a lot of money, should it, should it increase the pay for its workers?
And would you apply the same rule to a corporation like Publix?
- No, I think, you know, it is up to the corporate structure, what they're willing to, and the people that work there, what they're willing.
- But this has nothing to do with that.
This has everything to do with the first amendment.
- It has to do with incentives.
It has to do with parity with other corporations.
- Then deal with it on another platform.
This has to do with DeSantis going after a private corporation, which expressed its first amendment rights on a public policy measure.
- That was the red for lag.
- I'm sorry, we're out of time.
We lost Trimmel, but Dan and Deborah, and Darryl, thank you for a great program.
And thank you for joining us.
Send us your comments at FTWWEDU.org and please like us on Facebook.
You can view this and past shows online at WEDU.org or on the PBS app.
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And from all of us here at WEDU, have a great weekend.
(tense orchestral music) - [Announcer] "Florida This Week" is a production of WEDU, who is solely responsible for its content.
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