July 22, 2024
Funds

DeSantis-led Florida has rejected $11 billion in federal funding in recent years – Orlando Sentinel


TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis and state administrators have rejected at least $11 billion in federal funds in the past few years, saying there were strings attached, they “politicized” roads or fought climate change.

The programs affected include an expansion of Medicaid, rebates for energy-saving appliances and upgrades, a program to cut motor vehicle emissions, and summer lunches for children from low-income families. Millions of mostly low-income Floridians could have benefited from the funding, the governor’s critics say.

As the Legislature convenes on Tuesday to build next year’s state budget, federal COVID-19 recovery funds that have fueled tax cuts, road projects and padded the state’s $10 billion rainy day fund are drying up. State economists warn of a slowdown in tax revenue over the next few years.

At the same time, DeSantis continues campaigning for the Republican nomination for president by railing against the federal government’s spending. He also says he wants to plow several billion more dollars into the state’s ample reserves, despite no recession in sight.

Democrats say they believe the governor’s main goal is to target President Joe Biden.

“It’s so painful to watch as DeSantis turns people into political talking points against the Biden administration,” House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell said. “He’ll do it regardless of how it hurts his constituents in Florida. And since he has no logical reason for rejecting those funds, it must be political.”

But DeSantis does take federal funding for the programs he wants. About one of every three dollars in the $114 billion budget he recommended to the Legislature comes from federal coffers.

“He’s happy to take federal funds for police officer bonuses or … to score political points,” Driskell said. “But there is no real nuance to why he rejects so many funds that would help Floridians and take credit for that, too. He just wants to draw a distinction between himself and Biden.”

DeSantis Press Secretary Jeremy Redfern has said that the governor has the right to veto or turn down programs he considers to be bad policy. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

Depending on the uptick in enrollment, Medicaid expansion would bring at least $4 billion from Washington to the state if 700,000 to 1 million enroll. The state would also get an additional $2 billion over the next two years as an incentive offered to holdout states.

To receive that federal money, the state would have to provide about a 10% match, which DeSantis and Republicans complain is a condition that would cost too much.

Instead, hundreds of thousands of Floridians are losing health care coverage since the continuous enrollment policy enacted during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic ended last year. About a quarter million of those Floridians are children.

DeSantis also forfeited about $5 billion in food benefits aimed at families struggling during the pandemic by opting out of an emergency allotment two years before it expired in March.

The state missed the Jan.1 deadline to get $248 million for a summer food program for 2 million children. The state would have had to pay a $12 million matching fee for administrative costs, but officials said their existing food programs were adequate and worried about “strings” attached to the federal funding.

Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue turned down $320 million in federal funds to cut down on exhaust emissions from cars and trucks, calling the program an example of government overreach and “the continued politicization of our roadways.” Florida was the only state to turn down the funding.

Those grants also would have helped the DOT expand parking spaces for semitrailers at rest stops along the state’s highways along with the other measures to fight emissions most scientists have linked to climate change.

In July, DeSantis vetoed $30 million that would have made $346 million in federal funding available to Florida to give rebates for installing energy-efficient appliances and making energy-saving electrical upgrades to people’s homes.

DeSantis rejected the program at first because it includes measures that address climate change. But facing public pressure to reverse this decision, DeSantis has asked for $1.7 million to administer the program next year. State officials won’t say how much of the $346 million that amount of money would draw.

State leaders also turned down a $400 million program for low-income families to install solar panels on the roofs of their homes.

“This is more money Gov. DeSantis and the Republican supermajority left on the table,” U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, a Central Florida Democrat, said previously. “All this is doing is hurting poor people.”

Soto has a bill before Congress that would allow local governments to apply for the $346 million energy program and distribute it themselves.

The state also left an estimated $499 million in federal funds on the table by not spending $290 million budgeted for services for the disabled, according to an analysis by The ARC, a nonprofit group representing people with disabilities.

ARC officials said that was enough to provide services to the 23,000 children and adults who qualify for care but remain on a waiting list due to a lack of services.

State officials disputed ARC’s study, saying the agency returned to state coffers $145 million that wasn’t spent on services for the disabled as the Legislature intended. Once that money was put into a reserve account, it could no longer be used for ongoing benefits.

“By continuing to opt out of federal funding for essential programs for Florida families, like health coverage, disability services, mental health funding, climate resiliency programs, and more, the state not only continually sends billions of our tax dollars to other states, but also prevents improvements in quality of life for thousands of Floridians,” said Holly Bullard, chief strategy & development officer of the Florida Policy Institute, a progressive think tank.

The $11 billion is money Floridians send up to Washington when they pay income taxes. It often will go to other states if Florida doesn’t take it.

State economist Amy Baker warned lawmakers in November that the three-year outlook for state revenue is slowing.

One-time or short-term tax breaks — sales tax holidays for back to school, hurricane preparation and concert tickets among them — cost the state coffer’s $541 million, she said.

“We expect to be lower in terms of revenue collection than last year, [due to the state] adopting measures that affect revenues like tax holidays and other measures coming out of session at a record-setting pace,” Baker said.

The three-year outlook shows a year-end surplus dropping from $7 billion to $2.7 billion, she said, in part because of the billions of dollars in one-time funding the federal government sent to Florida during the pandemic that has stopped flowing.

Spending all that money now could mean no surplus available down the road, she said. No budget approach changes are needed in the short run, she told lawmakers.

But, she added, “there is a cautionary note or warning note that that balance is dropping that much over the three years.”

 



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We use cookies on our website to give you the most relevant experience by remembering your preferences and repeat visits. By clicking “Accept All”, you consent to the use of ALL the cookies. However, you may visit "Cookie Settings" to provide a controlled consent. View more
Accept
Decline