History & Accomplishments
Here are some highlights of what PICO United florida has accomplished since launching in January 2011
More than 150 families from Mt. Olive Baptist Church, Notre Dame Catholic Mission, San Juan Diego Catholic Mission, Asosciacion de Iglesias Protestantes, St. Marks Catholic, packed Fort Pierce City Commission Chambers Tuesday night, September 6, to protest plans by the city to increase the amount transferred from the City utility authority to the general budget. If enacted this would force the city utility to then raise rates. Mayor Robert Benton told the crowd that no “rates will be raised in the short term”. Pastors Mike McNally of St. Marks and Yves Greffard accepted the Mayor’s comments as a temporary victory and said they will hold the City to its commitments.
Jacquelene Cedillo from La Asasiocion de Iglesias Protestantes said that they have assisted more than 2,000 Fort Pierce low income families and that rates need to be reduced, not increased. As the budget hearing ended the crowd chanted “Lower our utility rates!”
Electric rates in St. Lucie County are $96.00 per 1,000 kwh; the City of Fort Pierce Utility Authority rate is $129.00 for 1,000 Kwh. The Fort Pierce Utility buys its power from Florida Power & Light that also provides the same service at the reduced rate to the County.
This couldn't be a worse time for the City of Fort Pierce to even consider causing utility rate increases. The following statistics support this statement:
- current unemployment rate in FP is near 12% and has hovered around 11% for the past 2 years.
- 24% of FP household income is under $15k & 16% of household income is between $15 to $25k.
- 30% of FP households live at or below the national poverty level versus 13% in the State of Fl. and 12% in the U.S. The poverty level in Fort Pierce is 135.6% greater than the Florida average and 151.4% greater than the national average.
- The income per capita in Fort Pierce is 35.8% less than the Florida average and 33.4% less than the national average. The median household income in Fort Pierce is 37.9% less than the Florida average and 43.4% less than the national average.
Congratulations to the St. Margaret Mary / Open Door Missionary Baptist Church and Community Organization! Last night, 75 people pressed David Westcott, Manager of the one billion dollar "Hardest Hit Fund," to loosen qualifications for mortgage assistance so more families are able to receive help and stay in their homes. State Senator Gary Siplin and State Representative Darren Soto were there to announce their support!
May 26, 75 clergy and leaders from 5 Florida counties met with Florida press outside Attorney General Bondi’s office to pray and ask that she change her position to hold banks accountable in the nationwide AG’s investigation of banking fraud. Clergy declared the Attorney General’s office a “Moral Hazard Zone” and brought in construction and warning signs to create a hazard zone. AG Bondi said recently in a letter that homeowners are a “moral hazard” because they will default on their mortgages to get principal reduction and stay in their home.
PICO United Florida faith leaders believe that the real moral hazard at stake is continuing to make responsible Florida homeowners bear the full brunt of the cost of a housing bubble and bust that was fueled by big Wall Street banks. Attorney General Bondi is at risk of encouraging “moral hazard” – rewarding and encouraging future bad behavior – by proposing that the big banks continue to not have to share in the cost of cleaning up a housing mess that they helped create and from which they made record profits.
Attached and below is some of the news coverage from our Prayer Vigil/Press Conference outside of Attorney general Pam Bondi office. AG Bondi did issue the statement below and looks like she shifting her position by now stating she is “open to principal reduction for particular harm”.
From Bondi spokeswoman Jennifer Krell Davis:
Attorney General Bondi’s staff, along with the other state attorneys general, continues to investigate and negotiate with the servicers regarding unlawful foreclosure practices. We expect to aggressively deal with servicers to resolve this matter.
Attorney General Bondi’s primary goal for these negotiations is to remedy the unlawful practices that prompted our investigation, while being careful not to exacerbate the foreclosure crisis that is already affecting so many people across the country.
Attorney General Bondi is open to principal reduction in cases where that is an appropriate remedy for particular harm suffered by particular individuals. She remains opposed to broad-based principal reduction schemes.
Statement by Pastors, on behalf of PICO United Florida.
In testimony Wednesday, March 30 at the Senate Health Regulations Committee hearing on the Medicaid Reform Bill, PICO United Florida leaders gave testimony in support of KidCare improvements designed to streamline enrollment using data from free-and-reduced lunch programs in local school districts. Leaders also asked for the "highest quality" care for Medicaid recipients, but we failed to make clear that the proposed restricted managed care systems, as seen in the counties operating through the waiver, do not meet that standard. We regret that we did not directly state our opposition to SB 1972 and HB7107, and are thereby issuing this clarification statement. PICO United Florida is opposed to passage of Medicaid reform and urges that legislators vote no to the bill as written.
As a network of faith communities in Florida, PICO United Florida believes that helping our children grow up healthy is vital the future of our state. We have worked tirelessly to enroll eligible children in health coverage and strongly supported changes to the KidCare program to cover children who are eligible but not enrolled. These changes have broad bi-partisan support because they would allow school districts to share their hot lunch program application data with Healthy Kids Corp in order to identify and pre-quality children who are eligible for coverage.
At the same time that we work to enroll all eligible children in coverage, we must make certain that our children and families are receiving good quality care. That is why we are disappointed that widely-supported KidCare improvements designed to streamline enrollment and cut red tape would be tied together with a controversial overhaul of the state's Medicaid program that would put care at risk for low-income children and families. Health care providers who are closest to the needs of poor children in Florida have expressed grave concerns about the Medicaid Managed Care proposal because it does not provide adequate safeguards for quality care and potentially puts the state's Medicaid program in jeopardy.
We strongly urge the Legislature to enact the common sense improvements to the KidCare program while seeking improvements to the state's Medicaid program that control costs and improve quality without threatening the care that is so important to Florida's future. We urge the Legislature to pass the stand alone KidCare Bill (SB406, HB245) improvements separate and apart from Medicaid reform, and that the Medicaid reform bill be defeated.
In support of the stand alone bills we ask that you sign our petition!
Attorney General Bondi Shifts her Position on Bank Fraud - Sign Clergy Letter to our Attorney General and Stand with Florida Families!
Across our state of Florida, nearly one-half of homeowners are suffering from underwater mortgage debt and mass foreclosure. The foreclosure crisis of the last four years has left Florida with 20% of our homes vacant and bank-owned. Just like an illness, many of these homeowners "got sick" through no fault of their own. But Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is objecting to proposals that would help them get better.
Last month, Attorney General Bondi signed a letter stating her opposition to making big banks do more loan modifications that would reduce a homeowner's debt as part of a settlement between the 50 state Attorneys General and the nation's largest banks. This letter was released soon after PICO Florida's meeting on March 25th in which we were assured that the investigations were among Bondi's top priorities. At the time her staff stated that "the negotiations with banks are just starting and we want a strong settlement that cannot be rushed."
Clearly Bondi's letter contradicts statements made at this recent meeting. Although rather than stand idle while ordinary families struggle to keep their homes, people of faith across Florida are telling Attorney General Bondi that she must stand with Florida's families. We need Pam Bondi to collaborate with the other state Attorneys General to develop solutions to this crisis, instead of making excuses as to why Florida cannot take action and bring families justice. Attorney General Bondi won her seat as Attorney General vowing to fight against mortgage fraud. We need to tell her Floridians want that promise fulfilled!
Sign our Clergy Letter to Attorney General Bondi urging her to stand with Florida families and not the big banks that produced the foreclosure crisis in the first place. Please forward this to your clergy colleagues to sign.
18 leaders from 5 counties met March 10 with Chief Bank Fraud Investigator Scott Palmer and his staff. Joining us in the meeting were two of our House Reps. Scott Plakon and Darren Soto.
Palmer agreed and they are working to implement in a settlement with the major banks, PICO’s six real solutions for the foreclosure crisis. They welcome and want more documentation of fraudulent foreclosure activity. They feel that the negotiations with banks are just starting and they want a strong settlement that cannot be rushed. They want to see a more active role of the Federal government in prosecutions and suggested we see US Attorneys in Tampa or Miami.
This is Attorney General Pam Bondi’s greatest priority. They will deliver our request for meeting with her, but said they would like to wait until they have a greater sense of what the negotiations with banks will look like. In other words, they do not want to be seen publicly with us as this will give banks the opportunity to say the AG is partial. They do promise to stay in contact, hear our concerns.
In the discussion of the implementation of Hardest Hit Funds we learned that they have not been taking applicants because Governor Scott is considering not accepting the $1 billion in federal funds to assist unemployed homeowners facing foreclosure. Hard to believe. While in the meeting both Representatives agreed to arrange a meeting with the Florida Housing Finance Authority, our sense is that they need to join us now to see the Governor, and will ask the request.
Rep. Scott Plakon also arranged a meeting for us in the afternoon with the lobbyist for the Florida Bankers Association, Anthony DiMarco. Leaders and clergy were clear about their anger at banks and requested that DiMarco deliver our request for an honest dialogue with Florida banking leaders. Of special contention was the need for people on the ground with authority to make decisions. His response was that we were all hit by a hurricane and doing the best we can to recover.
Clergy and community leaders met with the press Friday, February 25 in front of the Orlando Florida Attorney General’s office to urge Attorney General Pam Bondi to move for a strong settlement with the big banks. The briefing shared our congregations’ and communities’ concerns on the need for Attorney General Pam Bondi and the other 50 state AGs to reach a strong settlement with the nation’s biggest banks in their investigation of illegal bank fraud and abuse. I think that the big banks ought to be held accountable for their illegal actions," said the Rev. Charlie Banks of Open Door Missionary Baptist Church of Eatonville. "Is this the American Dream? Is this the way America works? No, it's not."
All 50 state Attorneys General are currently negotiating a settlement with the major banks. PICO United Florida and its 50 congregation want a settlement that holds banks accountable for their illegal practices, harm done to families, and creates a real solution that:
- Restores fairness to the housing market by charging homeowners what their house is really worth, not the inflated figures bankers invented to make record profits;
- Grants responsible homeowners fair, affordable and permanent loan modifications;
- Stop banks from seizing homes without investigation of all other options, including loan modification and opportunities for homeowners to appeal any loan denial;
- Grants full market value financial restitution to homeowners who were fraudulently removed from their homes;
- Requires the big banks, and not state governments, to pay for enforcement needs and capacities laid out in the settlement;
- And prosecutes bankers and servicers who broke the law.
In meetings last fall congregations were promised a meeting with the Attorney General and her investigative staff that is being scheduled now. It is critically important that the Attorney General and her staff hear from real people the consequences of the banks actions to our families and the importance of reaching a strong settlement. Too many families struggle to pay their mortgage and follow the law while the big banks have broken the law and have yet to be held accountable. Friday's briefing will be one of 10 press conferences scheduled around the country.
See Orlando Sentinel story: Florida churches rally in Orlando in support of mortgage-fraud investigations
The new name is for a growing network of congregation and communities “Uniting” to address the root causes of poverty and bring Florida working families together in faith to change their communities. The membership of PICO United Florida is composed of the PICO federations in Florida and is represented by their directors sitting on the PICO United Florida Board of Directors. The officers are veteran leaders and clergy from our federations – Rev. Errol Thompson (FOCUS Orlando), Rev. Kevin Thorpe (ACTION Network, Gainesville), Denwood Parrish (Congregations for Community Action, Melbourne), and Rocky Robinson (FOCUS).
PICO United Florida was formed last year to develop a powerful grass roots constituency to ensure that public policy and resources are serving the needs of low and moderate-income families are met across the state. Our mission is to strengthen and develop a network of grass roots organizations across the state of Florida. As a result, over 50 congregations and communities will expand grass roots leadership, identify a shared vision for their city and the State of Florida, and address pressing needs affecting 2.1million people and 210,000 low to moderate income families.
Our congregation community organizations work locally in each of our counties, together across the state, and nationally through the PICO National Network.