State Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa (Pic by Meredith Geddings, via myfloridahouse.gov)

A bill written to provide more financial aid to the growing number of homeless Floridians passed unanimously through a state House health committee this past Wednesday.

The bill is part of a bipartisan effort to combat Florida’s homelessness crisis, which garnered national attention several weeks ago.

House Bill 531 provides a way for Floridians to donate a dollar for programs to help the homeless when registering vehicles and renewing their driver’s licenses. If implemented, the legislation is estimated to raise roughly $1.5 million a year for assistance to the homeless, the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, has said.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed  $12 million dollars from the state’s general revenue fund to the National Veterans’ Homeless Support Group for “homeless housing assistance grants.” The item was one of the many public assistance programs Scott vetoed.

The issue of homelessness in the state garnered renewed attention when the national television program 60 Minutes shed much-needed light on the little-discussed epidemic of homeless schoolchildren in the state. The subject of the program was Seminole County, Fla., where there are 1,100 homeless students in its K-12 schools. Earlier this month the Orlando Sentinel reported that Central Florida officials warned “the number of homeless students in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties has ballooned 79 percent since January 2009.”

The 60 Minutes exposé was mentioned multiple times throughout the discussion of Reed’s bill.

State Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, pointed out that most counties were struggling with funding to address their homelessness problem. According to a study released by The National Center on Family Homelessness last month, Florida has one of the worst rates of child homelessness in the country.

Reed said, “We, as Americans, should and must do something to help our own.”

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