Florida’s economy has rarely been stronger than it is now with our state’s unemployment at 5 percent and strong growth predicted for the state’s future.
However, there is a critical segment being left behind in this economic expansion. Floridians with disabilities account for more than 20 percent of the population, yet only 30 percent of those are employed.
It is important that Floridians recognize that a growing rate of unemployment for persons with disabilities is a concern for everyone.
People with disabilities who are given the opportunity to leave the sidelines and pursue their life’s dreams are less likely to rely on public assistance, providing a net gain for all taxpayers. In turn, this allows taxpayer money to be invested in other areas beneficial to all Floridians, such as education, healthcare, and vital infrastructure.
This economic advantage also enhances businesses’ social and corporate relationships with their customers. Those who hire people with disabilities improve their employee diversity and deepen their commitment to reflect and support their communities.
Thankfully, our elected state leaders have noted these issues and passed two bills that expand opportunities to Floridians with disabilities. All of Florida’s taxpayers should appreciate and thank Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli for their efforts to expand education and employment incentives for people with disabilities. Gov. Rick Scott signed SB 672 into law in January.
Thanks to their leadership, disabled Floridians will be able to permanently take advantage of Florida Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts Program which gives disabled children the resources they need to receive a quality education. Additionally, disabled Floridians will be given more opportunities in the workplace by encouraging private companies and state agencies to hire them, granting them a sense of self-worth and financial independence.
These efforts will level the playing field by providing all Floridians access to a high-quality education and workforce skills. These goals are consistent with the Work Force Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) and the Florida Chamber’s “Six Pillars” plan for sustainable growth. With the government’s recognition and support of these efforts, disabled, working Floridians will further diversify and improve the state’s economy. Employing people with disabilities is a “win-win” for everybody including all of Florida’s hard-working taxpayers.
JR Harding lives in Tallahassee and is a longtime author, speaker and advocate for people with disabilities. Dominic M. Calabro is the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.