The Democratic National Committee on Monday unveiled billboards in Miami and Tampa to highlight the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan’s benefits — and remind voters that Florida’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, opposed the measure.
“Voters in Tampa won’t be able to miss this message: help is here, and it’s because of President Biden, not Senators Rubio or Scott who opposed this bill and the relief it provides Floridians,” said DNC Chair Jaime Harrison in a statement.
The effort is part of a broad effort by the White House and Democrats to build more support for the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan President Biden signed into law last week. Biden on Tuesday will kick off a nationwide campaign with a stop in Pennsylvania.
Florida isn’t on the president’s travel itinerary, but pollsters and local Democrats expect him here soon enough as economists say the plan should play well politically in the Sunshine State.
The American Rescue Plan will bring an estimated $17 billion to Florida, $290 million to Palm Beach County, plus another $119 million for the county’s municipalities, according to estimates released last week after Biden signed the measure.
Michael Binder, faculty director at the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab, said he would be surprised if the White House doesn’t make a strong push to sell the relief bill in Florida ahead of next year’s critical elections, with a U.S. Senate seat and the governor’s mansion on the ballot.
That Biden lost Florida by an “enormous margin” — 3.4% — is irrelevant, he said, especially after having come close to winning a Senate seat and the governor’s mansion here in 2018.
“I can’t imagine they would give up on Florida in 2022,” he said. “Even if you think it’s hard, look at Ohio, they’re going to show up and campaign in Ohio and Ohio is much more difficult than Florida is. I fully envision legitimate campaigns, and money from the national parties, the whole nine yards.”
FAU poll: Floridians not optimistic about economy’s quick recovery
Especially as a Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative survey released earlier this month suggests Floridians might welcome the legislation.
The poll showed that only 36 percent of respondents were “optimistic” about the country’s economic fortunes in the next year, while 28 percent were pessimistic. And 31 percent said they expected it will take until later this year or well into 2022, if not longer, for their personal and household finances to recover.
Monica Escaleras, BEPI director in FAU’s College of Business, said she believes the poll’s results suggest the rescue plan’s “targeted” assistance help will prove popular in the Sunshine State.
“Passing of the American Rescue Plan that is going to boost people’s personal finances, especially those individuals with low income, it’s going to give them a boost and they are going to recover a little bit faster,” she said.
Escaleras said the key pieces, including the $1,400 direct payment to people with household incomes of less than $160,000 a year and boosting the child tax credit, will be “well-received” in this state despite criticism from Republicans and others because it includes items that, on their own, don’t seem connected to addressing the pandemic’s economic hardship.
“The problem is within this plan there are a bunch of other items, and I think that is the criticism it is receiving,” she said. “But I think that it’s going to be popular among the people that are being helped. This is a bill that is going directly to help individuals, and it is targeted to help those that have been hurt the most. “
Local analyst: Bill’s’ direct aid to businesses is one of the keys
Senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick at Bankrate.com, which has offices in North Palm Beach, admits that the $1,400 checks to people and expansion of the child tax credit for families are attention-getters. But he said overlooked in the bill is the “direct aid to businesses” — from airlines to restaurants and live entertainment venues.
“One of the things that was highlighted during the downturn was the lack of a social safety net that we have in our country,” he said, noting the “heartbreaking and humbling” scenes of desperate people in long lines of cars looking for help at food-bank giveaways across America.
“We should be a better country than that,” he said. “With all the resources and richness that we have and we have people lining up in cars for food because they have nowhere else to turn?”
Hamrick agreed that “clearly the economy would have improved” even without the rescue plan. But he said the position taken by GOP U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell this week that the improving economy made the legislation “unnecessary” was “disingenuous.”
He pointed out the tourism industry, including hotels and restaurants, is a major employer in Florida and how soon it will be back to pre-2020 levels remains very much a question mark.
“Leisure and hospitality was ground zero for the devastation of business during this downturn,” he said, noting that even with the recent “fairly substantial rebound in job recovery” there is still a deficit of 3.5 million jobs in the sector.
“This is a way (of) I would say trying to stop bloodshed, financial bloodshed, for that sector,” Hamrick said. “But it’s a little like trying to apply a compress to a significant wound.”
To that end, Hamrick said, the most critical parts of the relief bill for the economy may well be massive allotments to expand the delivery of the vaccines, with Biden on Thursday calling for all American adults to be eligible for inoculation by May 1.
“The path out of the economic downturn is essentially the solution for the pandemic, and that is, of course, vaccinations,” Hamrick said. “All of those working together provide elegant solutions toward getting us to a better place.”
Escaleras at FAU agreed that consumer confidence and an economic recovery depends on reaching herd immunity through widespread vaccinations, and for that reason you will see consumers holding back.
“Until people get vaccinated they are going to feel that way,” she said. “Until people feel safe, you can give them money but it doesn’t mean they will go out and spend it.”
Another factor that would boost confidence and a sense of normalcy is the dollars in the rescue plan to help schools fully re-open.
“This rescue plan is $1.9 trillion and is costly but … in that sense something good is going to come out of it,” Escaleras said.
Bill expanding the child tax credit highlights another need, expert says
And though Republican critics have blasted the legislation as a “liberal wish list,” Hamrick said major pieces of the bill — such as expanding the child tax credit — highlighted another need exposed by the pandemic.
“Obviously children should be the highest priority because very often they are in the most precarious position in depending on others for their well-being,” he said. “I think if we are as great a nation as we believe ourselves to be then how can we not address issues of poverty and child poverty?”
Even business groups agree that childhood poverty in Florida is an issue. In 2019, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, citing a 2017 U.S. Census’ American Community Survey data, calculated that one-fifth of children in Palm Beach County live in poverty.
One area of hope, Hamrick said, is that pent-up consumer demand here and across the country will create plenty of business opportunities going forward.
“This is going to be an opportune time for many aspiring entrepreneurs who have the wherewithal to start a business for the very reason that so many consumers are eager to let it rip,” he said. “And those business environments, whether it’s New York City or West Palm, where obviously the business environments are incredibly different, no matter where one is located it might be worth taking a look at.”
For now, the Biden sales pitch tour includes the Pennsylvania stop Tuesday while Vice President Kamal Harris will visit Nevada and Colorado this week.
There’s no word on a Florida visit but local Democrats said they will be ready.
“We certainly would welcome them,” U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, said Friday.