Swelling food stamp requests driving Florida budget gap

TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers began a grim budget-cutting session Monday with more bad news: the state's deficit is likely $100 million bigger than expected and Florida leads the nation in food stamp requests.

Senate President Jeff Atwater opened the two-week budget-cutting session with a list of ''sobering statistics'' that show Florida with a record number of home foreclosures, food stamp recipients and job losses that are placing more demands on state services, sending the budget deeper into the red.

''The gravity of the current fiscal situation is clear,'' Atwater, a North Palm Beach Republican, told the Senate. "We are simply spending money we do not have.''

Among the new expenses is the 49 percent surge in food stamp recipients over the past 18 months. A whopping 50,000 new enrollees in December pushed Florida's total caseload to 1.7 million, said Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon.

What's worse, he said, are the demographics of the people applying: Newcomers to entitlement programs, "not people who are used to applying.''

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