Some Florida trust funds terminated through new law; where’s the money going?

Florida

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) – The Florida legislative session continues toward its April 30 conclusion, and Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed several pieces of legislation after they cleared both chambers in the Legislature.

On April 19, DeSantis signed five bills into law, including one that terminates four separate trust funds.

SB 7056 removes the Public Defenders Revenue Trust Fund from the Justice Administrative Commission, the Revolving Trust Fund from the Department of Law Enforcement, the Welfare Transition Trust Fund in the Department of Military Affairs, and the Welfare Transition Trust Fund in the Department of Health.

While the trust funds are terminated, the money will be transferred to different funds, have any current or remaining debts and obligations payed and the accounts closed out by July 1.

So what did the to-be-terminated trust funds do, and what will the money go to now?

The Public Defenders Revenue Trust Fund, JAC

The Public Defenders Revenue Trust Fund within the Justice Administrative Commission was created in 2009 to fund the activities of public defenders in Florida, mainly the legal defense of anyone determined to be indigent, or poor.

Before 2018, the Public Defenders Revenue Trust Fund was supported by revenue taken from a portion of an assessment paid for all noncriminal moving and nonmoving violations, and part of a surcharge imposed when someone pleads guilty or nolo contendere (where a defendant accepts conviction without admitting guilt), or is found guilty of the criminal use of personal identification information.

In 2018, a $2.6 million budget was transferred from the Public Defenders Revenue Trust Fund to the Indigent Criminal Defense Trust Fund, according to an analysis written by the Florida Senate’s Professional Staff of the Committee on Appropriations.

The analysis says the two trust funds serve the same purpose, and a Fiscal Year 2019 Implementing Bill made changes to redirect future revenues to the Indigent Criminal Defense Trust Fund. Those changes carried forward into the 2021 Fiscal Year and will expire on July 1, 2021. The current balance in the Public Defenders Revenue Trust Fund is $0, so it was recommended that the JAC terminate the fund.

With the passage of SB 7056, all of the current balances and all of the revenues of the trust fund will be transferred to the Indigent Criminal Defense Trust Fund within the JAC.

The Revolving Trust Fund, DLE

The Revolving Trust Fund within the Department of Law Enforcement will be terminated and all of the remaining balances and revenues will be put into the General Revenue Fund.

The Revolving Trust Fund was established to fund criminal investigations using “buy money,” according to state documents. The fund was a depository for loaned cash from the General Revenue Fund to be used in investigations, with those funds to be deposited back into the General Revenue Fund after completion of investigative activities, according to the staff analysis.

During the 2021 Fiscal Year, DLE reported to the state that they had not used funds from the trust in 20 years, instead using funding held outside of the State Treasury for investigative purposes. As a result, $1 million unobligated cash balances that were in the trust were transferred to the General Revenue Fund and the DLE requested the termination of the trust fund.

Now that SB 7056 has passed, the Department of Law Enforcement will have to pay any outstanding debts or obligations and then the accounts will be closed out and the terminated fund will be removed from state accounting systems by the Chief Financial Officer.

The Welfare Transition Trust Fund, DMA and DOH

Both of the Welfare Transition Trust Funds within the Department of Military Affairs and the Department of Health were created to receive money from a federal block grant under the Florida Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program.

The trust fund dollars are required to be used only for providing services to TANF-eligible individuals.

According to Benefits.Gov, a site operated by the U.S. Department of Labor, to be eligible for Florida TANF, you must be a resident of Florida, and a U.S. citizen, legal alien or qualified alien. You must be unemployed or underemployed and have low or very low income. You must also be one of the following:

  • Have a child 18 years of age or younger, or
  • Be pregnant, or
  • Be 18 years of age or younger and the head of your household.

Senate analysts report that both the DMA and DOH are no longer providing the services related to the TANF block grant, so the need for the Welfare Transition Funds in both agencies has ended.

Now that SB 7056 has passed and been signed into law, the statute that created the funds was repealed, and the remaining balances for both funds will be required to pay outstanding debts or obligations, and transfer remaining funds to the appropriate department’s Federal Grants Trust Fund by July 1.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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