Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida Family Readiness Program not being utilized

With patriotic fanfare, state lawmakers set aside $5-million in 2005 to help families of deployed Florida National Guard and Reserve troops facing financial difficulties.

But thus far, just $606,907 has been paid out to 172 citizen soldiers and their families.

In the last year, payments slowed to a trickle with just $128,000 paid to 32 families in need.

No news conference trumpeted what happened on July 1: Lawmakers took back most of the money, reducing the fund to a mere $400,000.

"That's tragic," said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington. "Because the financial need is definitely still there."

State lawmakers and bureaucrats struggled to explain why the Florida Family Readiness Program never performed up to lofty expectations.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, a co-sponsor of legislation creating the fund, acknowledged that lawmakers might have overestimated the amount of money troops and their families would need.

"Maybe we put too many dollars in there," said Fasano on Wednesday. "One of the things I wanted to be certain of when we created the program was that it wouldn't be underfunded. I didn't want one family turned away because of a lack of money."

He added: "We thought it was a great idea. Never did we think the money wouldn't be utilized."

The program allows families or troops to get financial help for a variety of things, from paying the mortgage to car repairs or buying groceries. They must demonstrate an inability to make payments themselves.

The payments can be made up to four months after the troops return from deployments in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Joe Negron, the former member of the House who helped create the program, thinks many people are just too proud to ask for help, equating the payments to charity.

"I've talked to families that asked for money, and they're almost apologetic that they had to ask for help," Negron said. "I know in my heart many families are simply too proud or self-reliant to ask for money. And I'm not sure there's anything we can do about that."

While Guard officials said they are confident they adequately informed their troops about the fund, state military leaders said they thought it almost impossible to get word out to all Reserve troops.

Glenn Sutphin, legislative director for the Florida Department of Military Affairs, which oversees the program with the Guard, said Reserve troops are stretched all over the map in many different units.

That makes it harder, he said, to inform them of the fund.

Guard leaders have met with Reserve officials to better communicate. But Sutphin said, "I just think there's an information glitch that's more prevalent with them."

Reserve officials could not be reached to comment. But a year ago, they said it was a myth that deployments caused financial hardships.

In fact, a RAND Corp. study found that reservists who weren't deployed suffered a wage drop more often than those who went overseas. That might be because of extra combat pay.

Since 2005, about 3,000 Florida Guard troops have deployed overseas, and about 700 troops are currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. No numbers are available for the Reserve.

Ron Tittle, a spokesman for the Guard, said Florida deployments have fallen in the last three years, something that led to a reduced reliance on the assistance fund.

In another year, Florida may have as many as 5,000 troops deployed, and if the financial need increases, lawmakers will undoubtedly approve more cash, Tittle said.

The federal government allocated $1.8-million in 2007 to pay the families of active duty troops who face financial hardships, a program separate from the Guard and Reserve fund.

"They spent it all in a heartbeat," said Sutphin, who said he didn't know why families of active duty troops demonstrated a greater financial need than their counterparts in the Guard and Reserve.

Sutphin said his department agreed with lawmakers to reduce the Guard and Reserve fund to $400,000.

"We didn't want to be greedy," Sutphin said. "It wouldn't have been fair to all the citizens of Florida to keep it."

For information about the Florida Family Readiness Program, call the Florida National Guard at 1-904-823-0360.

Florida Family Readiness Program not being utilized 07/24/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 25, 2008 2:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa man driving ATV killed in Gibsonton crash on U.S. 41

    Public Safety

    GIBSONTON — A 24-year-old man driving an all-terrain vehicle died Monday afternoon in a crash on U.S. 41, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

  2. Questions about Russia chase Trump during first Israel visit

    World

    JERUSALEM — President Donald Trump solemnly placed a note in the ancient stones of Jerusalem's Western Wall on Monday, sending a signal of solidarity to an ally he's pushing to work harder toward peace with the Palestinians. But his historic gesture- and his enthusiastic embrace of Israel's leader - were shadowed …

    President Donald Trump shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after making joint statements, Monday in Jerusalem. [AP photo]
  3. Data breach exposes 469 Social Security numbers, thousands of concealed weapons holders

    Corporate

    Social Security numbers for up to 469 people and information about thousands of concealed weapons holders were exposed in a data breach at Florida the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The breach, which the agency believes happened about two weeks ago, occurred in an online payments system, spokesperson …

    Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam on Monday that nearly 500 people may have had their Social Security numbers obtained in a data breach in his office.
[Times file photo]

  4. Trigaux: Can Duke Energy Florida's new chief grow a business when customers use less power?

    Energy

    Let's hope Harry Sideris has a bit of Harry Houdini in him.

    Duke Energy Florida president Harry Sideris laid out his prioriities for the power company ranging from improved customer service to the use of more large-scale solar farms to provide electricity. And he acknowledged a critical challenge: People are using less electricity these days. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  5. Editorial: Preserve wild Florida before it's too late

    Editorials

    The last dairy farm in Hillsborough County has milked its final cow, the pastures sold to developers who will build 1,000 new homes. The remnants of the last commercial citrus grove in Pinellas County, where the Sunshine State's famed industry began in the 19th century, were sold last year to make room for 136 homes. …

    As dairy farms and citrus groves disappear, much more needs to be done to avoid paving over Florida’s wild spaces.