Scott takes victory lap on $1.1B Zika funding but wants more federal help
It's not yet certain how Florida will benefit from the $1.1 billion Zika spending package Congress passed Wednesday, but on a call with reporters, Gov. Rick Scott made this clear: It's about time the federal government acted.
"What's frustrating is everybody said they were for funding," said Scott, who has traveled to Washington, D.C., twice to meet with congressional leaders and demand emergency money. "I'm frustrated it took so long. I think it shows the incompetence of the federal government, but I'm glad we got something passed."
Now, the governor is asking for the feds to refund the state for money it spent under an emergency declaration signed by Scott in February. To date, Florida has spent $36 million on fighting and preventing the spread of Zika and Scott last week promised another $25 million for a vaccine research grant program. That's on top of millions spent by local governments, particularly in Miami-Dade County, where the virus continues to spread in Miami Beach.
"My goal is the federal government will give the money out quickly," Scott said.
He also renewed demands for additional support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He wants the CDC to send an epidemiologist, match the grant funds for vaccine research and speed up test results for pregnant women.
But the federal government already has provided resources, including sending an epidemiologist. The CDC has to date spent well over $100 million on a vaccine research program.
As well, the CDC has granted $8 million in Zika-specific aid to Florida, as well as $27 million in federal emergency funds that could be used to combat Zika, in addition to other purposes. As of Friday, Florida had used less than $3 million, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Much of that money is allocated for other purposes, and the state has budgeted for -- even if it hasn't spent -- all of the Zika-specific money from the federal government, spokespeople for the state of Florida told the Miami Herald last week.
Pregnant women have reported waiting as long as five weeks to receive the results of Zika tests Scott made available in every county health department. The CDC has bought some lab resources to speed that up.
Under Scott, the state has cut staffing in the Florida Department of Health, reducing the agency from more than 17,000 positions when he took office in in 2011 to fewer than 14,000 full-time employees this year, according to state records.
This has not impacted Zika test results, Scott insists. Cuts are all tied to a change in the Medicaid program that farmed out work to private health insurers, he said.
"Any efficiencies made in years past did not impact the response to Zika," Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.
Some of the testing has to be done by the CDC, and that's what the state is waiting on, according to Scott's office.
"We are clearly doing our part," he said, "but the CDC needs to provide an epidemiologist, needs to provide lab support."