Friday, January 19, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Florida mismanaged homeowner help

It's one thing to rail against federal spending. It's a whole other matter as governor to impede the smart disbursement of federal resources aimed at helping Floridians. The tale of how the state has managed the federally-funded Hardest Hit program is an insult to financially struggling homeowners and anyone with a financial interest in restoring Florida's housing market. Hopefully Gov. Rick Scott, who recently embraced Medicaid expansion as Florida's best option, also will learn from this debacle.

The $7.6 billion Hardest Hit program was launched in 2010 to stabilize the housing market in the midst of the economic downturn. It provides financial assistance to homeowners in states with high foreclosure rates who lose their job or take a substantial pay cut. In most cases, the funds are distributed in the form of monthly payments to underwrite mortgages or as a lump sum benefit to bring a delinquent mortgage current after a homeowner returns to work. When a home is saved, the benefits go far beyond what accrues to each family. Whole neighborhoods are better off since property values and physical plant don't decline.

But as last week's report by Tampa Bay Times senior correspondent Susan Taylor Martin showed, the state mismanaged its program from the start. Many deserving Floridians didn't get financial aid while felons, rule-breakers and scofflaws did. At the end of last year only 18 percent of Florida applicants received help, a lower rate than any other state, and only 10 percent of the $1 billion set aside for Florida homeowners had been disbursed. Much of the lackluster performance is attributable to Scott's antagonism toward federal stimulus money.

Rather than get the word out that this financial aid was available, Scott's office told the Florida Housing Finance Corp., the public agency administering the program, not to make certain public appearances to broadcast its existence. That came on the heels of another bad decision made before Scott took office in January 2011. Unlike other states, Florida wasted valuable time observing a pilot project in Lee County. Meanwhile thousands were losing their homes to foreclosure.

When the program did finally launch statewide in 2011, the state made some wrongheaded decisions on how to proceed. Florida disqualified most owners of condominiums by limiting eligibility to only condo complexes that have FHA approval — fewer than 300 of Florida's 25,000 condo complexes qualified. It capped benefits at six months when other states were offering much longer terms of help. When it became clear that only 12 percent of homeowners who received help could resume payments after the six-month run, the state extended the aid to 12 months.

The program also gave taxpayer funds to the wrong people in violation of rules and, in some cases, common sense. Recipients included people with fraud convictions. At least 10 Tampa Bay recipients had large federal tax liens. Some funds went to people who owned multiple properties, and one woman bought a second house while receiving Hardest Hit money. A Florida auditor general found the program suffered from lax verification of homeowners' incomes.

Compare Florida to the smaller state of Michigan that has already disbursed 75 percent of its Hardest Hit funds and helped thousands more homeowners than Florida. The entire episode may have supported Scott's position on federal stimulus, but it came at the expense of his pledge that is more relevant to Floridians' daily lives: Run government better.

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Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
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Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
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William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

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The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18