They made their list, and now state lawmakers are checking it twice.

Thursday morning, elected officials and members of the public met for the Charlotte County Legislative Delegation meeting to voice their needs and concerns to Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota), Sen. Ben Albritton (R-Wauchula) and Rep. Michael Grant (R-Port Charlotte).

Here are the highlights:

For our kids

Charlotte County makes up a fifth of the children in foster care managed by the lead agency for child welfare services in the region.

This means there are 159 kids with a 122-bed capacity from 58 foster homes. So, the remainder have to be placed in Lee and other counties to be in a suitable home.

“It’s really one of our fastest-growing counties in terms of kids going into foster care,” said Nadereh Salim, the CEO of the Children’s Network of Southwest Florida.

Aside from placement, Salim said relapse of re-entry into foster care is another huge problem. This is mainly due to parental substance abuse problems.

“The time to sobriety is a little bit longer than the time frames in child welfare,” which takes 12 months for permanency, Salim said. “Addiction takes a little longer than that.”

Charlotte Behavioral Healthcare is also using its Children’s Community Action Team (CAT) to provide comprehensive services to children under 21 with significant mental health or substance abuse diagnoses to hopefully repair these problems at a young age. So far, the program has helped 63 kids and their families, said CEO of Charlotte Behavioral, Victoria Scanlon.

“These are kids who are at risk of removal and becoming a part of the child welfare system,” Scanlon said. “For these kids and families, the stakes are very high and these services are critical.” Charlotte’s CAT is one of two programs statewide that does not have recurring funding, Scanlon said.

For our seniors

There are currently 54,954 Florida seniors on a wait list for care.

These wait lists allow seniors to receive cost-effective care either in their home or in a community. There is also a specific wait list to help individuals affected by Alzheimer’s.

The Florida Council on Aging requested $9.95 million in funding to serve 1,282 of the most at-risk of these seniors on the Department of Elder Affairs waiting list for these programs. A majority of this will help those on the wait list for community care, while $1.2 million will help 292 seniors and caregivers on the list for home care. Almost $1.5 million of this funding would serve 128 seniors waiting for Alzheimer’s Respite Care.

Though $9.95 million may seem like a lot, it’s nothing compared to the $112 million it would take to serve these same seniors in a nursing home, said Kirsten O’Donnell, spokesperson for the Area Agency on Aging for Southwest Florida.

“People want to stay at home if they can,” O’Donnell said. “And in the long run, it produces savings.”

For our water

“It is quite appropriate that this delegation here basically at ground zero for a major environmental disaster that we continue to experience,” said Mote Marine Laboratory CEO Dr. Michael Crosby, “and that is red tide.”

With their partnership with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and continual funding, Crosby said they can use science to develop technology to mitigate the effects of red tide.

“We can do something about it,” Crosby said. But, once red tide is gone, funding to help the problem typically does the same. Yet, red tide always comes back. Crosby wants to see a focused effort to combat the problem once and for all.

Along with expanding STEM education, Crosby also addressed the dying coral reefs in the Keys due to a coral disease that has an 80 percent mortality rate on these vibrant polyps.

“We’re watching (Florida’s coral reef) go extinct before our eyes,” Crosby said. “It will happen in a matter of years unless we ramp up our response efforts.” Crosby advocated for a focused effort to actually be able to apply science and technology to combat these environmental issues.

For our housing

Last year, Charlotte County lost more than $1.6 million that was intended to be used for affordable housing.

Even with an affordable housing crisis, the trust fund allocated for affordable housing, the Sadowski Funds, keeps getting swept, or used for other purposes. Over the past 20 years, this has cost Charlotte County more than $32 million, said Angela Hogan, board member of the Florida Coalition for the Homeless.

Hogan asked in the meeting for state representatives to use the trust fund money on affordable housing, supporting Senate Bill 70, which exempts the Legislature from using state and local government housing trust funds to be transferred to stabilize the state budget.

“(Trust funds) get swept for a reason,” Grant said. “When we’re looking at priorities at the state level, and if we didn’t sweep those trust funds in the past year, there would be unfunded Medicaid, education requirements, school safety and a whole host of things that the Legislature you elected thought were more priority than the homeless. I’m not saying that that’s right, I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m just saying that’s reality.”

Hogan also requested state law conforms to current federal law and program definitions in order to soon be able to merge with the Heartland Coalition for the Homeless without losing state funding. If this merger happened, the group would be able to help homeless in seven counties in Florida.


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