Former Florida Governor Rick Scott reportedly blocked $70 million in federal funding for addressing the state’s HIV crisis, according to an extensive investigation into the matter by The Guardian — even as diagnoses soared under his watch.
Scott’s attack on the federal funds was two-fold: In 2015, the governor’s administration directly blocked two grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that would likely have sent about $16 million to the state’s two hardest-hit counties; and from 2015 to 2017, Florida was forced to return $54 million in HIV grants to the federal government, “due to an apparently deliberate failure on the part of state health bosses to secure legislative permission to spend such desperately needed funds.”
On top of these actions, Scott — who staunchly opposed accepting federal money — also rejected a Medicaid expansion for his state under the Affordable Care Act, further denying care for those affected by HIV in Florida.
“I think Rick Scott fueled the epidemic in Florida,” Marlene LaLota told The Guardian. “How many infections could have been prevented with that money? How many lives could have been saved? Shame on them.”
LaLota is a 28-year veteran of Florida’s Department of Health and was the administrator of its HIV/Aids section from 2014 to 2016, the newspaper noted.
The fact that these revelations are only now coming to light is a testament to the strict hierarchy at Florida’s Department of Health, The Guardian said: “the governor at the top followed by the surgeon general, who is secretary of the department, on down through state and county health departments.”
Officials within the department that held close ties to Scott followed his political agenda.
Florida is one of ten states that currently see the most new HIV diagnoses and the only state to see an increase in cases between 2010 and 2017. At least five years ending in 2013, the state saw a decrease in new diagnoses, but by 2017 Florida saw an increase of 11 percent.
That is the same year Scott decided to run for the U.S. Senate, where he is currently serving his first term, and as he focused on his campaign, refusing federal funds became less of a priority.
By the time he left, the Florida Department of Health missed out on “$53,837,844 – funding that could have had a profound impact on a growing HIV crisis but went to other states instead" — along with millions more in lost grants.