The Hernando County Legislative Delegation was held Monday, December 6, 2021. This is the meeting where local officials meet with state officials to request changes or additions to law, and request state funding for county projects. This meeting was attended by State Representatives Blaise Ingoglia and Ralph Massulo. Senator Wilton Simpson was absent from this meeting.
In the Public Testimony segment, the delegates heard from Dr. Timothy Beard, President of Pasco-Hernando State College (PHSC), Elke Cumming of Gulf Coast JFCS (Jewish Family and Community Services), Chris Lemon of the Pace Center for Girls, Ashley Hofecker of Mid Florida Community Services, Inc. and Mark Barry with the Arc of the Nature Coast.
Dr. Timothy Beard, President of Pasco-Hernando State College
Dr. Beard thanked the state officials for prior legislative funding that built the STEM Center for Student Success & Community Engagement in Dade City earlier in the year, and for the funds that were allocated for the college’s operations. “The job is still not totally done,” Beard said. He requested $4 million to cover the underestimated cost of the STEM Center. An additional $3 million is requested for the West campus to repair aging buildings
This year, the focus is on the Corporate College that will be a part of the Dr. Dennis Wilfong Center for Success. “I believe, like you believe, that we ought to leave Hernando County better than we found it,” Beard said, prefacing his request for $12.5 million for the Corporate College.
Beard reported that nursing education for LPNs (Licensed Practical Nurses) will be downsized next semester due to a lack of faculty. The college is seeking to incentivize instructors for this program, who can reportedly triple their salary outside of academia. Additionally, clinical space and simulation equipment is needed for nursing students’ experiences. $7.5 million was requested for these programs.
Pasco Hernando State College is also planning a Regional Logistics Academy, in partnership with Polk, Hillsboro and St. Petersburg State Colleges to train truck drivers and other logistics professionals for careers in the transportation and distribution industries. Beard asked the delegation to consider $160 million for the program, to be divided between the participating colleges.
Representative Massulo said at the conclusion of Beard’s presentation, “Education is expensive, and our state prioritizes education, particularly career education. Because we believe as the legislature, and as the governing body in this state that people don’t have to go to college to get a good job and to be able to raise their family well. But as we invest in this education… We want our kids to learn the facts of how to be productive citizens and we don’t necessarily want to influence their political philosophy. We want to stick to the reading, writing and arithmetic, and in (PHSC’s) case, the jobs and skills training.”
Elke Cumming, Vice President of Programs and Administration of Gulf Coast JFCS
Cumming’s agency offers a Non-Custodial Parent Employment Program. The unique program that began in 1995 allows parents ordered to pay child support an avenue to maintain payments. Almost half of the participants in the program are court-ordered to Gulf Coast JFCS for employment assistance and to report child support payments.
“For every dollar the state invests in the program, four dollars is returned to the coffers, whether that’s through child support or fees that are paid.” Cummings did not request a specific amount during the meeting.
Since the slowdown in the court system produced by the COVID-19 pandemic, JFCS has been actively seeking participants at job fairs and other public events.
Chris Lemon of the Pace Center for Girls
The non-residential, free and voluntary Pace Center for Girls is an early-intervention program with academic and counseling services. Girls attending Pace do so as a result of personal or family trauma and are given special attention to overcome and succeed academically as well as individually. Participants attend school at the Pace facility and graduate from their original school.
Lemon had with him Leah, a current student at the Pace Center who told her story of success.
Over the past few years, Pace has expanded their Reach Therapeutic Services, which according to their website, “Delivers supportive therapy specifically designed for girls in middle and high school in a variety of convenient, easy-to-access locations, including in their home, school, community or online.”
Lemon reported that of 6 graduates in 2020, all are attending college or employed.
No request for funding was made during the meeting.
Miranda Maldonado, Community Transportation Coordinator of Mid Florida Community Services
Maldonado requested continued support for the Innovative Service Development grant. The annual grant was originally established in 2019.
The grant helped Mid Florida to expand service hours and access to rural areas including Ridge Manor and Istachatta, and increase the number of trips provided for employment and education purposes.
Maldonado reported that their Veteran Ride Program is the biggest success, providing reduced fares for veterans and their families. Qualified riders pay a fare of $1.00 each way, reduced from the regular fare of $5.00.
Mid Florida also transports veterans to the James A. Haley Hospital in Tampa free of charge.
Mark Barry with The Arc of the Nature Coast
Barry told representatives that he “wanted to do the happy dance,” about the construction of their Life Skills Center on their Neff Lake campus. Barry asked the representatives to consider rate increases in order for the Hernando County agency to survive.
Prior to The Arc and agencies like it, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities were housed in institutional settings. The Arc was born out of the deinstitutionalization trend in the the 70s to better serve the needs of these individuals, and Barry reports that space has always been an issue as the program grows. According to their website, The Arc still provides services at the 30 acre chicken farm in east Hernando County, as well as 20 other locations, serving more than 280 individuals and their families in Hernando and Pasco counties.
The Arc’s rates are set by the Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA), and cannot be changed. “We have always been a low-funded industry, and consequently a low-wage industry,” Barry reported that charitable funds have allowed the Arc to survive in many cases.
In October, The Arc Nature Coast acquired The Arc in Sumter County, in what Barry described as a “desperate and necessary move” in order for the Sumter agency to survive due to increases in the state’s minimum wage. However, Hernando’s Arc will most likely be impacted after 2022, when the minimum wage increases again. Without a rate increase, they will likely not be able to make payroll.
Representative Massulo, who is a medical doctor, acknowledged that healthcare is experiencing a problem in the areas of nursing homes and the like that are having staffing issues due to the low salaries often offered. He assured Barry that the state is aware of the problem.