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Gov. DeSantis lays out plan for federal COVID-19 relief funds

The plan addresses several different issues in Florida affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, from unemployment and infrastructure to access to mental health care.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled his plan for the federal money given to the state by the American Rescue Plan Act.

The governor's plan addresses several different areas affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, from unemployment and education to access to mental health care.

Before detailing his plan, DeSantis criticized how the federal government decided how much each state would receive. The bill offers more money to states with higher unemployment rates, which DeSantis said was unfair to states that had a more rapid economic recovery.

"We are getting comparatively less money than our population because our unemployment is lower, and a lot of those states that have much higher unemployment are getting much, much, billions and billions of dollars more," DeSantis said. "I've been on recording saying I don't think that's fair."

Afterward, DeSantis described how the state plans to use roughly $4.1 billion from the federal government. DeSantis said the state is likely to receive a total of between $9 billion and $10 billion.

First, the governor's plan gives a $1,000 one-time bonus to all first responders, including police, firefighters and EMTs. The bonus will cost the state roughly $208 million.

A major point in the governor's plan is state agency infrastructure, specifically the CONNECT program.

"There was recently a report, as many of you know, recommending money to modernize [CONNECT], so I'm recommending $73.2 million to modernize the CONNECT Reemployment Assistance Program," DeSantis said. 

DeSantis also recommended $56.6 million to support the operations of the reemployment program that he said would help the state's ability to handle increased volumes of unemployment claims.

One of the initiatives DeSantis proposed was establishing a Behavioral Health Management System.

"One of the tragic effects of the pandemic was the toll on mental health," DeSantis said. "Social isolation and the stresses of economic uncertainty exacerbated the need for services throughout our health system."

The proposed system, which DeSantis estimated would cost $72 million, would help streamline access to mental health services. 

Another major focus of the governor's plan is general economic recovery for businesses most affected by the economic shutdowns.

Among the proposals is $260 million for seaport relief, especially for businesses affected by the cruise industry shutdown. The $260 million is equal to the losses the seaports have sustained from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic through last month, according to DeSantis.

"Our cruise ships are under a no-sail order from the CDC," DeSantis said. "That's taken an enormous toll on our seaports, and yet in all these different relief packages, there hasn't been any money set aside for any of the seaports."

The proposal also sets aside $150 million for the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund and $50 million for Visit Florida, which DeSantis said will assist the state's hospitality industry.

One of the most expensive proposals is $1 billion to establish an Emergency Management Response Fund.

"The fund will eliminate the need to seek general revenue funding to respond to [the] ongoing pandemic emergency, as well as future emergencies," DeSantis explained. 

Another goal DeSantis addressed is workforce training to get people into high-demand jobs. 

For this, DeSantis proposed $60 million for the Workforce Development Capitalization Grant Program. Colleges and technical centers may apply for grants to purchase instructional materials and equipment to help expand workforce development programs.

DeSantis also proposed $125 million for a new program under the Department of Education help give students work-based learning opportunities through pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs.

Some of the other proposals are in the governor's plan are:

  • $50 million for the Road Fund
  • $1 billion for the Resilient Florida Program
  • $41.7 million for the Florida National Guard
  • $938.4 million for Department of Transportation Work Program
  • $10 million for Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer's Disease Research Program

DeSantis said the state will have roughly $6 billion left over for other plans put forth by the Florida Legislature.