Florida has refused $70 million worth of federal grants to fight the spread of HIV.
A new investigation by The Guardian discovered Florida had to return $54 million in unspent grants after then-Gov. Rick Scott’s administration deliberately failed to secure legislative permission to use the money. The administration also blocked U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from seeking another $16 million to address spiking HIV rates in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, two of the most populous counties in the state.
Scott, now a U.S. senator after narrowly defeating a pro-LGBTQ Democratic incumbent in November, had also refused to expand Medicaid in Florida over his entire eight years in the governor’s mansion.
His opposition to the grant participation appeared to stem from his outrage at anything connected to the Affordable Care Act. Scott, previously a health care executive who oversaw the largest Medicare fraud in U.S. history, had also refused federal stimulus money for high-speed rail projects.
But critics say this particular stubbornness to accept financial assistance fueled a public health crisis in South Florida.
“Rick Scott fueled the epidemic in Florida,” Marlene LaLota, a Florida Department of Health veteran, told The Guardian. “How many infections could have been prevented with that money? How many lives could have been saved? Shame on them.”
Florida in 2017 saw the highest number of new HIV diagnoses in the country with 4,783 cases, 13 percent of all cases nationwide, according to the CDC. During the period the Scott administration turned away federal funding, infections increased 11 percent.
Florida lawmakers say they were kept unaware of growing budget concerns within the Department of Health. But the agency itself stopped putting routine requests for federal funding into its annual requests.
A spokeswoman for Scott’s office called The Guardian’s reporting inaccurate.
“The state could only spend the money that it had the budget authority to spend,” the spokeswoman said.