Florida passes up over $100 million in federal grants

September 9th, 2011



The following article was published in the Tampa Tribune on September 8, 2011:


Florida passes up over $100 million in federal grants 


By Kelli Kennedy


Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature have rejected or declined to pursue more than $106 million in federal grant money and returned another $4.5 million for programs linked to federal health care initiatives, including cancer prevention, leading critics to say he is putting his conservative agenda ahead of residents' needs.

Scott ordered state agencies to reject any money tied to President Barack Obama's health care plan, which Florida is challenging in court, but Scott kept more than $13 million for a four-year abstinence education grant and for another program coordinating background checks for long-term care workers.

The figures, which are totals of funds that could have been obtained over five years, were provided by the governor's office.

Critics have accused the governor of cherry-picking which programs he will accept grants from. The Legislature rejected $11.1 million that would have been paid out over four years to educate teens about pregnancy and HIV rates.

"It's not only disappointing, it's a huge health threat. These are real people's lives at stake," said Judith Selzer, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood.

Florida returned $2 million to fund centers linking elderly and disabled residents with services and another $500,000 to counsel patients on long term care options, according to the Department of Elder Affairs. Another $2 million was returned that would have covered implementation and planning costs for the federal health program.

"Things that are simply implementing the Affordable Health Care Act, or Obamacare, I'm not going to support because I believe this: It's the biggest job killer in our state, we can't afford it and it's going to be bad for patients," Scott said. "If you look at the things that we are supporting, it's the things that implement what we are already trying to do in health care."

Lawmakers in several other states have also have been reluctant to accept money associated with the federal health overhaul, not wanting to be perceived as supporting the measure.

Still, regardless of political stance, every state has accepted some funding attached to the federal health overhaul, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback announced last month he would return a $31.5 million grant to help lay the groundwork for national health insurance reform, citing uncertainty that the federal government will be able to meet its financial commitments. Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Louisiana and Florida also returned their funding, according to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Alaska did not to apply for federal funds to establish a health insurance exchange and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker returned a $637,000 federal "consumer assistance" grant.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been an outspoken critic of the federal health law, calling it "overreaching and harmful legislation," but his state has accepted tens of millions of dollars in federal grants tied to the law for programs including community health centers and long term care, according to the NCSL.

Florida's Legislative Budget Commission initially rejected a $31.5 million grant over five years for a home visitation program for at-risk families that would help curb child abuse and work with pregnant women. But after strong criticism from health and education advocates, the commission approved a budget amendment Wednesday allowing the state to spend the federal funds.

The decision will also help Florida compete in the next round of the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top competition, which could award up to $100 million to improve early learning.

Scott supported spending the money even though it is tied to the federal health care overhaul that Florida is challenging in federal court.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, called the home visitation program "overly intrusive" since it involves having people give advice to teen mothers and victims of domestic violence on where to get services.

Democratic Sen. Nan Rich said the issue is emblematic of the larger debate about each grant tied to the federal health bill.

"The conversation was surreal. I couldn't believe we were actually talking about these programs not helping children and victims of domestic violence," said Rich, who has participated in the family home visits. "The whole thing is so ideologically driven."

Lawmakers have also rejected nearly $50 million, including $875,000 over five years for a program that aids in cancer prevention and increases access to quality care for cancer patients and $8.3 million allowing Osceola County Health Department to expand community health centers.

In June, a legislative panel turned down a $2.1 million federal grant that would have fully paid for administrative costs to pave the way for an additional $35.7 million in Medicaid funding to pay for nursing home diversions of disabled and elderly patients over the next five years.

The money was offered this year to Florida and 12 other states as part of the federal health care overhaul law. They were invited to join 29 states and the District of Columbia, which already participate in the Money Follows the Person demonstration program. Scott, a Republican, had recommended accepting the grant although he's been a leading opponent of the federal law, but the GOP-majority commission rejected it on a split vote.

Additionally, the state did not pursue $50 million over five years for community health programs focusing on disease prevention.

"These funds are available now to bring relief to Floridians when they need it most. However, it's a fraction of relief that the Affordable Care Act provides and if our states continues to not implement the law we'll lose out on vital health services," said Laura Goodhue, executive director of the health advocacy group Florida CHAIN.

Critics say the state is turning away sorely needed funding in lean budget times. Lawmakers are still working on figures for next years' state budget. They wound up balancing the $69 billion state budget by laying off state workers, slashing money for hospitals and forcing public employees to pay 3 percent of their salaries to cover part of their pension costs.

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