TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — It will soon be up to Florida’s “jobs” Governor Rick Scott to save an employment program from the trash heap that’s been helping women start new careers since 1976.
State lawmakers quietly killed $2 million in annual funding for the Displaced Homemaker program in the final hours of the legislative session, based on a budget analysis that called it a duplication of services competing with Florida’s CareerSource jobs centers.
The so-called Displaced Homemaker trust, funded with fees from marriage licenses, was the brainchild of longtime Tampa state lawmaker Helen Gordon Davis. Davis, who is now deceased, wanted to help women who were well-versed in domestic skills and raising families, but had been out of the workforce for most of their lives and needed special training and counseling to kickstart new careers.
“I think she’d be rolling over in her grave,” said Alice Thompson, who now runs that specialized program that has served hundreds of women at the Helen Gordon Davis Centre for Women in Tampa.
“We help so many people. To see it go away hurts,” Thompson said. “It’s sad. It really hurts.”
In the waning hours of the state legislative session, lawmakers who hammered out the final budget killed Davis’ program that’s been on the books for 40 years.
Backers claim there is not another program like it in Florida specifically designed for women (and men) who lose a family breadwinner through separation, divorce or death and are trying to support their families with a fresh start and new career.
Thelsuice Gonzalez insists the jobs program changed her life.
“I did not feel like I was just another number,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t feel as if I had to meet the bottom line.”
Gonzalez had survived childhood abuse, adult homelessness and cancer that resulted in her need for a wheelchair when she entered the program. She’s now a published author, motivational speaker and supports her daughter as a professional life coach.
“I’m a happy woman,” she said. “I’m thriving. I feel like I am contributing now to the community.”
But in the annual and arcane horse trading that results in Florida’s annual budget, state lawmakers were ultimately swayed by a legislative budget analysis that concluded Davis’ jobs program wasn’t worth the funding. State number-crunchers concluded that similar services are available through Florida’s CareerSource jobs centers that cater to large numbers of employment seekers around the state.
Gonzalez, who has experienced both programs, disagrees.
“That’s not the truth at all, it is totally different,” she said.
Thompson says the budget cut may look good on paper, but shows little understanding of what the Displaced Homemaker program actually does.
“We do so much with so little that it doesn’t make sense to take it away in my view,” Thompson said. “We provide an individualized, one on one, get it done, overcome your barriers kind of program for them.”
The Centre for Women is now petitioning Governor Scott to veto the legislation that kills the Displaced Homemaker trust fund and its ongoing funding through marriage licenses. They’re hoping the Governor will consult with his wife on this one because she’s been to the Centre for Women and has seen results of the jobs program firsthand.
The Governor’s Press Secretary Lauren Schenone tells Eight on Your Side even if the Governor vetoes the Legislature’s actions and restores the program, spending authority still belongs to lawmakers–in other words the money would likely remain locked up next year. Program funding for the current year used by the Centre For Women and seven other agencies across Florida to provide job training expires July 1.
Due to ongoing health issues, Gonzalez now uses a wheelchair. But she credits the program for overcoming challenges and giving her the drive and the resources to support her daughter in a stable home instead of living day to day on government assistance, sleeping on friend’s couches and wondering how to make ends meet.
“It gave me the opportunity,” Gonzalez said.
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