Mitt Romney's got nothing on Rick Scott.
The morning after winning the Florida presidential primary election, Republican frontrunner Romney volunteered to CNN that he didn't care about poor people.
"I'm not concerned about the very poor,'' Romney said then. "We have a safety net there."
The former Massachusetts governor's apathy toward the truly needy is not exclusive. But Romney, at least for now, can only talk, Florida's governor can act. And he has.
The focus today is on the hungry served by the Florida Farm Share program. You know, the people who might otherwise be helped by a highly regarded safety net.
Scott vetoed a $750,000 appropriation for the program that had been included by legislators in the current state budget. It's first time in two decades Farm Share had not received state assistance and it resulted in the shut down of two food distribution centers.
Here is how the program operates: Using two warehouses, some support staff from the state Department of Agriculture and inmate labor from the Department of Corrections, Farm Share accepts bulk fruit and vegetables that might have an aesthetic imperfection and not be suitable for shipment to retail grocers. Instead of being tossed in a trash bin, the fresh produce is sorted, packed and shipped to 650 food programs serving 610,000 households in all 67 counties. The food is provided free of charge.
Based in South Florida, Farm Share also distributes food directly to 4,000 low-income households of migrant workers, single parents, seniors and the disabled.
Area residents might be more familiar with the program via the hands-on delivery of holiday meals each Christmas season by state legislators. Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, has been part of the giveaway for 16 years. The fresh produce included potatoes, tomatoes, string beans, squash and okra. There was enough for 500 families. Unfortunately, 650 showed up and the food was gone in three hours.
And, for the first time, the local effort had to pay Farm Share for delivery because the agency had no money for transportation. That's $1,600 that went for gasoline and transit costs instead of for food.
One of the beneficiaries was the Cooper family of west Pasco. They don't meet Romney's definition of the very poor because they are not on public assistance. But Ellen Cooper, 58, and her husband Ron are not working. He is a retired engineer and had worked as a maintenance man at an apartment complex until he was laid off 18 months ago. So their older son, daughter-in-law and four children moved into their Jasmine Lakes house to make sure the bills were covered. To provide a Christmas dinner, they lined up Dec. 16 with the rest of the recipients.
"This is the first time we've ever done something like this. What a wonderful thing this is,'' said Ellen Cooper.
But the wonder didn't end with their own dinner. They froze the extra vegetables. They turned the tomatoes into salsa and jarred it. And they prepared a second holiday meal, drove to Ocala on Christmas evening and shared the food with clients in a residential drug rehabilitation program. It allowed the Coopers to honor the memory of their own son, Ronnie, a recovered addict, who died in September at the age of 31, just two months after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
If you're counting, that is produce that went from farmers' fields to Farm Share's warehouse to Fasano's holiday distribution to the Coopers to recovering addicts' Christmas dinner. It's the type of food chain that is now threatened by Scott's veto and it makes little sense to interrupt the front end of the supply line at the same time the demand on the back side is increasing.
"The only winners in that budget was the garbage dumpsters; they got more fruits and vegetables thrown in them,'' deadpanned Michael Rosenberg of Miami who wrote to legislators asking for restoration of Farm Share's funding.
Farm Share proponents graciously attribute last year's veto to the governor's ignorance, rather than callousness, particularly since the legislature increased the program's appropriation 25 percent to $750,000. Perhaps Scott, amid his frenzy to appease the tea partiers and to claim a record for gubernatorial budget vetoes, didn't understand the value of Farm Share.
Regardless, this is a worthwhile effort to serve the needy. Safety nets don't provide much protection if you fail to secure them properly.