PolitiFact Florida Probes Federal Zika Funding

Jan 4, 2017
Originally published on January 4, 2017 2:32 pm

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is saying the federal government is shortchanging the state when it comes to doling out money to fight the transmission of the Zika virus. WUSF's Steve Newborn talks with Katie Sanders of PolitiFact Florida to see if it's true.

In early December, Gov. Scott announced that state health officials had lifted the zone of active Zika transmission in Miami-Dade County. But that didn't take the sting out of Scott's ongoing feud with President Obama’s about the amount federal dollars flowing to fight the mosquito-borne disease.

Scott wrote in a Dec. 2 press statement: "It has been more than two months since over $1 billion in Zika funding was signed by President Obama, and the federal government has still only committed $7 million to help reimburse Florida’s costs of fighting this virus."  (A week later, Scott announced that the last Zika zone -- in South Beach -- had been lifted.)

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:

Obama proposed $1.9 billion in Zika funding in February but that led to a partisan battle, and Congress didn’t reach an agreement until September. Obama signed a spending bill that included $1.1 billion to combat Zika later that month.

States like Florida were expected to get significant chunks of the money to pay for increased mosquito control, faster diagnostic tests and other expenses. (Florida had 1,236 Zika cases, the majority of which came from outside the continental United States, as of Dec. 7.) The bill also included money for federal research.

Florida applied for $15 million and received notice Oct. 28 that the funding had been approved through the federal epidemiology and laboratory capacity grant. However, the notice stated that for now $7.5 million was available to Florida and that the remainder was subject to the availability of funds.

Mara Gambineri, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health, said the state wasn’t certain if it came from the $1.1 billion program since it was part of an existing grant program.

"We have not been told what our distribution of funds as part of the $1.1 billion will be, nor have we been provided a timeline." she said.

Kevin Griffis, a spokesman for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, told PolitiFact that the money is in fact part of the legislation Obama signed.

The federal government provided half of the request to Florida while continuing to evaluate the state’s application, Griffis said. None of Florida’s request has been rejected, he said.

The federal government expects to award most of the money for states by the end of December. Since Obama signed the legislation for the $1.1 billion, Florida has applied for about $92 million in grants.

Scott’s statement centered on the specific $1.1 billion pot signed by Obama. Left unsaid was what happened over the summer, when the federal government offered Florida a shot at millions more dollars for its Zika fight.

In total, the federal government had provided $16.5 million in Zika money to Florida by the date that Scott made his statement. That includes the $9 million that first came available this summer from a variety of grants and then the $7.5 million this fall (from the $1.1 billion legislation). On Dec. 12, Florida received notice that it will get $4.9 million more from the federal government to combat Zika.

Florida could also claim reimbursements -- up to $29 million -- from federal public health emergency funds but has only drawn down some of those dollars. Florida officials have been reluctant to tap that money because they argue they could need it to respond to other health care threats such as those stemming from hurricanes or terrorism.

We rate this claim Half True.