(WM) Republican Sen. Rick Scott and his administration rejected $70 million in federal funds to address HIV in Florida while Scott was the state’s governor, according to an investigative report released by The Guardian on Sept. 11.
The Guardian states that between 2015-2017, Florida returned $54 million in grants to the federal government intended for combating HIV. This was “due to an apparently deliberate failure on the part of state health bosses to secure legislative permission to spend such desperately needed funds.”
The report also states that Scott’s administration blocked two Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant applications in 2015 that would have allowed $16 million to be sent to Miami-Dade and Broward counties, two areas with some of the highest rates of HIV infections in the U.S.
“This is outrageous and irresponsible. This reporting indicates that Senator Scott purposefully worked against public health, directly endangering Floridians and keeping Florida among the highest states for HIV transmissions in the nation,” said Equality Florida HIV Advocacy Project Director Alejandro Acosta in a statement. “We cannot afford silence when it comes to HIV. Florida should be using every tool at its disposal to combat its HIV epidemic, both through the state budget and state policy.”
The CDC’s 2017 statistics show that Florida had 4,783 new HIV diagnoses, or 13% of the total cases in the U.S., more than any other state.
Marlene LaLota, who was the administrator of the Florida Department of Health’s HIV/Aids section from 2014 to 2016, spoke with The Guardian for its report, saying “I think Rick Scott fueled the epidemic in Florida. … How many infections could have been prevented with that money? How many lives could have been saved? Shame on them.”
LaLota also told The Guardian that she and her team were forbidden by the Scott administration from discussing budget concerns directly with legislators.
“Rick Scott had us all on lockdown,” LaLota said. “It didn’t used to be like that with previous governors.”
A spokeswoman for Scott said to The Guardian that the assertions in its article were inaccurate. “The state could only spend the money that it had the budget authority to spend,” the statement read.
The Florida Department of Health did not respond to The Guardian’s requests for an interview.
The Guardian’s reporting comes seven months after President Donald Trump announced in his 2019 State of the Union address his administration’s goal to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S. The administration’s proposal titled “Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America” states it will reduce new HIV infections in the U.S. by 75% in five years and by 90% by 2030. According to HIV.gov, $291 million has been proposed in the Health and Human Services 2020 budget for the administration’s proposed plan.