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DeSantis Holds Key To Health Care Projects In Budget

stethoscope resting on cash stock photo.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Lawmakers directed $91.1 million to hometown health and human services projects, including clinics, meal-delivery programs and a hurricane center. Not all will make it past the finish line.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, aiming to curtail spending amid the COVID-19 pandemic, used his veto pen last year to wipe out $44 million in health care-related projects inserted into the budget by state lawmakers.

The question is whether he will do it again this year as the state’s financial picture has improved.

An analysis of the health and human services portion of the budget obtained by The News Service of Florida shows that lawmakers this year were able to direct $91.1 million to hometown projects, including money for hospital clinics, meal-delivery programs for homebound people and a hurricane center for The Arc of the St Johns.

In all, nearly 240 separate spending items received money in the budget, according to the analysis.

To help build and support a homeless shelter in Pasco County, Metropolitan Ministries received $5 million, the most for a project in the health and human services portion of the budget.

According to its website, Metropolitan Ministries’ mission is to “care for the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless in our community through services that alleviate suffering, promote dignity and instill self-sufficiency … as an expression of the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ.”

Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, pushed for the project, but it’s worth noting that Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, also represents a portion of Pasco County. An initial funding request for the project totaled $6,988,800, according to a review of budget documents.

The Veterans Access Clinic at Nova Southeastern University received $3.5 million, making it the second best-funded project in the health and human-services portion of the budget. Requested by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, and Rep. Anthony Rodriguez, R-Miami, the center will provide services including dental care, vision care, physical therapy, speech therapy and psychological and behavioral health to veterans and their families at no cost. The $3.5 million budget item is less than half of the $7.2 million that the lawmakers requested, according to a review of budget documents.

Conversely, the smallest appropriation for a health care project --- $50,000 --- went to the Jordan Avi Ogman Foundation in Palm Beach County. The foundation is dedicated to research and development of a gene therapy cure for TECPR2, a rare neurodegenerative genetic disorder. Lawmakers set aside the full amount requested by Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, and Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton.

Lawmakers approved an overall $101.5 billion spending plan on April 30, the final day of the 2021 session. Of that total, $44.5 billion is directed toward six state agencies that deal with health care and human services: the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Elder Affairs, the Department of Health and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Much of the health and human-services budget is made up of funding for the Medicaid program.

Lawmakers have not officially sent the budget to DeSantis, with the new state fiscal year beginning July 1 and ending June 30, 2022.

DeSantis in 2020 whacked $1 billion from the budget as he and lawmakers worried about the impact of the rapid collapse of the state’s tourist-based economy during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the time, Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairman Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, called the vetoes “painful.” On Wednesday, Bean said he’s optimistic that projects will fare well this year. But Bean said he’s also a realist.

“DeSantis will scrutinize and evaluate each and every project. Not all may make it across the finish line, but the ones that do have a chance to improve Floridians’ health,” Bean said in a statement to the News Service.

Christine Sexton - News Service of Florida