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PolitiFact FL: Mental Health Funding; 'Crisis Actors'

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
PolitiFact Florida
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

In the wake of the shootings at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, accusations are going around at a fast clip. 

Did Florida Gov. Rick Scott really cut mental health funding by $20 million? And are there really "crisis actors" who play a role in front of the television cameras during events like the shooting?

The fallout from the shootings at a Broward County high school has reverberated far and wide. And Gov. Rick Scott is right in the sights of the Florida Democratic Party.

They've issued a list of grievances against the governor for what they call a "long record" of opposing gun safety and money to treat mental illnesses.

Scott "ended $20 million in funding for mental health care despite Florida already ranking at the bottom," the group said in a news release Feb. 19.

Here's PolitiFact Florida's rulingon that:

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel

A key source of data for ranking states on mental health spending is the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute. According to the Institute, Florida ranked51stin per capita spending in the fiscal year 2014.

The institute collects annual data on expenditures by state mental health agencies from the states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. The total amount of expenditures is divided by the state population to compare the amount per capita.

For Florida, the group tracked money spent through Florida’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Office, managed by the Department of Children and Families. So it doesn’t include services paid from other sources, including Medicaid or local funds, on mental health programs.

The biggest thing to know about the $20 million grant is it was never intended to be permanent.

The $20.4 million was part of a federal block grant for substance abuse and mental health services. It was administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families and expired when the 2017-18 budget took effect.

Scott didn''t set the expiration date or cut it off early - he allowed the grant to expire.

The Florida Democratic Party argues that it was Scott’s responsibility to fill the funding gap, and when he had the opportunity to fill it, he did not.

Former state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, wrote a letter to Scott in August urging him to use his executive authority to fill the budget hole and extend Florida’s state of emergency over the opioid crisis.

During a state of emergency, the governor can spend money appropriated for other purposes or spend unappropriated surplus funds, according to Florida statute. This way, Latvala argued, Scott could have used state reserves for the $20 million gap without the Legislature’s approval.

Scott did not do this.

What’s the relevance of this money to the Parkland shooting?

We wondered how the grant money might be related to the situation of Nikolas Cruz, who authorities say admitted to shooting the students at the school he once attended.

Not long before the shooting, DCF investigated Cruz after he posted "violent" social media posts, according to records obtained by the New York Times. The report mentioned that Cruz had been visited by a counselor from Henderson Behavioral Health, which provides mental health services in South Florida.  

Mental health advocates said it is fair to assume that a portion of the grant money would have gone to services that might have helped Cruz.

We rate this claim Half True.

Moving on to our next fact check in the wake of the Parkland shootings, a lot of bloggers out there have taken aim at one of the teenagers who's taken to the airwaves to push for more gun control.

An aide for Tampa state Representative Shawn Harrison told a reporter that student David Hogg and another teen were "actors" who "travel to various crises when they happen."  He got fired for that comment.

Are there such things as "crisis actors?"  Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel

Multiple internet bloggers are falsely accusing David Hogg, a student survivor of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., of being a paid actor with a past of pushing for additional restrictions on guns.

The conspiracy theories spread to the mainstream when Benjamin Kelly, an aide for Florida state Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, told a reporter that Hogg and another student were "actors" who "travel to various crisis (sic) when they happen."

The aide was fired, and the Broward County School District said Hogg and his classmate are "absolutely students at Stoneman Douglas."

The genesis of the ‘crisis actor’ claims

Conspiracy theorists have latched on to a  CBS news video of Hogg in Los Angeles from 2017 as evidence that the teen might be a plant.

Hogg posted a video that showed an argument between his friend and a lifeguard on Redondo Beach. The argument was unrelated to guns.

After Hogg’s friend put a boogie board on a trash can on the beach, a lifeguard asked him to remove it. The friend complied with the lifeguard's request, but the interaction turned sour after the friend made a snide remark.

Hogg’s video of the dispute went viral. CBS later interviewed Hogg about the dispute and the video.

From there, websites like the conspiracy-minded Infowars reached for straws, including Hogg’s appearance after the shooting on CBS This Morning.

"Interestingly, Hogg has reconnected with CBS for an appearance on CBS This Morning as the mainstream media unabashedly features high school students as figureheads for a new anti-gun push," InfoWars wrote in a blog.

Folks on the internet took the claim one step further and claimed that the video was proof that Hogg was just pretending to be a high school student in a different state. At one point, the No. 1 trending video on YouTube was a video suggesting that Hogg was an actor, but the video has since been removed.

Not only is there no credible evidence to support this claim, plenty of evidence contradicts it entirely. The school district has confirmed that the targeted students are, in fact, students. Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie and Stoneman High students on Twitter have confirmed that Hogg is a senior at Stoneman Douglas, not a crisis actor.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire!

Copyright 2018 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.