State Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise (Pic by Minority Office, via flsenate.gov)

As Florida’s $70 billion budget passed in the Legislature late last week, Democrats in both chambers took the opportunity to criticize GOP leaders in both the state House and Senate for denying federal funds from the Affordable Care Act. The GOP-led Legislature also levied huge cuts on health services this year, which could have been remedied by increased federal funding.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Barack Obama’s landmark health care reform legislation signed in 2010, has been the source of tension between Republicans and Democrats since its passage. Florida Republicans have been particularly opposed to the law, and the state of Florida currently leads the legal challenge against it (which is slated to be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court sometime this month.)

Last Friday, the budget passed in the Florida House down party lines, with a 80-37 vote. Democratic members denounced the millions of dollars cut from university budget reserves, Bright Futures Scholarships and funding for hospitals that serve low-income people.

State Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, called the budget a “tax increase for the middle class.”

State Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, said during debate that she could not support the budget because the state continued to turn down funds from the health care reform law.

“I cannot support this budget until we use all the resources available to us,” Jones said.

Jones’ arguments were echoed by state Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, in the Senate chamber.

Rich, who was among five Democrats and three Republicans to vote against the budget during its passage in the Senate, said the budget “still hits critical government services,” despite tweaks made during conference.

She said she was also frustrated because the state was “reluctant” to find loopholes in the tax structure, in order to raise revenue. Liek Jones, Rich was also upset that the state continued to deny funds from ACA.

“We are the only state that is doing this,” Rich said. ”These funds are coming from our taxpayers.”

She also spoke out against the elimination of a grant used for child abuse prevention and maternal care home visiting, which child advocates fought hard for last year.

“Now we have no budget authority and we cannot draw down these funds,” Rich explained.

As I reported last month, the House budget eliminated the $3.4 million “Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Visiting Grant.” The grant, which is allocated through the Affordable Care Act, would go to groups that provide home visiting programs in the state. Such programs have been shown to provide effective child abuse and neglect prevention, maternal care and pregnancy prevention for teens.

The Florida Legislature originally denied the grant last year because the state is leading the legal challenge to the law allocating the funds. However, they accepted it once they found out it was tied to millions in possible education grants from the feds. Once the state was passed up for those funds, though, House appropriations leaders decided to reject the money once more.

Although the state has continued to turn down most of the federal grants allocated through the Affordable Care Act, the state did accept funds for abstinence-only education programs.

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