Responding to a pandemic shouldn’t be partisan.
The health crisis that has killed over 35,000 Floridians and severely sickened over 90,000 has also devastated families and businesses financially.
No Floridian has been untouched as stores closed their doors, tourism slowed, unemployment claims spiked, and neighbors needed assistance to put food on the table, keep the lights on, and pay rent.
Yet, once President Biden came into office, Democrats have not had much Republican support in delivering help to America. When President Biden proposed the American Rescue Plan that has by now made vaccinations available to any Floridian who wants one, Republicans said ‘No’.
In March, Congressional Democrats passed the $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package that sent over $10 billion to cushion the State of Florida’s budget and billions more in aid to Florida counties and cities. Not one Florida Republican in Congress supported it.
Governor Ron DeSantis responded to this unprecedented assistance by claiming it harms Florida. He said, “Florida’s not being treated well in this bill.”
Senator Rick Scott went even further, saying that the state should return the money to Washington.
Rep. Randy Fine, the House’s top education budget negotiator, called the funds to help schools keep their doors open safely a “travesty.”
When Democrats in the state legislature proposed a budget to utilize American Rescue Plan funds for rent relief, affordable housing, direct payments to tourism industry workers, and $25,000 grants to hurting small businesses, Republicans flat-out rejected it.
Florida Republicans jumped quickly to partisan politics in attacking this desperately needed relief package.
In their next breath, however, they congratulated themselves and took credit for spending over $6 billion of Rescue Plan funds in their proposed budget.
Governor DeSantis and Republicans in Tallahassee are trying to take credit for these relief funds that that they opposed and that every Republican in Congress voted against.
Fortunately, President Biden and congressional Democrats knew that we had to deliver relief to Floridians still fighting to recover from this pandemic.
American Rescue Plan funds allowed the legislature to give $1,000 bonus payments to police officers, nurses, firefighters, prison guards, emergency medical technicians and teachers; offset transportation trust fund losses by $2 billion; spend $300 million to protect Florida wildlife and $100 million to prevent an environmental disaster at Piney Point; and improve sewage infrastructure with $500 million.
Still, Governor DeSantis’s partisanship is leaving billions of dollars in Washington that could do more to improve Florida’s recovery.
What about using some of the $10.2 billion to help unemployed Floridians? DeSantis and Scott share much of the blame for the state’s unemployment system collapse last spring as Floridians waited months for benefits and some received no response at all.
The pandemic should have been a wakeup call to Florida Republicans to finally increase benefits from $275 per week, among the lowest in the country. But they continue to reject the help, refusing to accept funds that could increase benefits and remedy Scott’s and DeSantis’s past failures to help unemployed Floridians get back on their feet.
The American Rescue Plan also included the largest expansion of the Affordable Care Act since it became law in 2010 by making more low-income Americans eligible for subsidies, an important move for the record 870,000 Floridians who purchased insurance though the marketplace.
Why won’t Governor DeSantis take advantage of the plan’s incentives to expand Medicaid and help even more Floridians access affordable health care?
One year ago, 20 percent of adults in Florida said they had no confidence that they would be able to pay their next month’s rent and nearly 60 percent of families said they experienced job loss since the start of the pandemic.
Yet Florida Republicans cut over half of designated state funds for affordable housing in this year’s budget.
Governor DeSantis rejected a whopping $3 billion for Medicaid expansion that would help shore up an estimated $1.2 billion shortfall in the state’s health budget.
Hypocrisy is nothing new in politics. But when America faces a crisis, we must come together.
Governor DeSantis and Republican leaders in Tallahassee should have worked with President Biden and congressional Democrats to maximize support for struggling Floridians.
Unfortunately, their partisanship once again let the people of Florida down.
Ted Deutch, a Democrat, represents Florida’s 22nd district in the U.S. Congress.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: U.S. Rep. Deutch to GOP: If you want credit for stimulus, vote for it.