It’s been a tough couple of months for Healthy Start coalitions in Florida, ever since the Legislature cut more than $5 million from their budget and pulled back on one of the few opportunities the organization has to fill in the recently created gaps.
The Healthy Start coalitions of Florida, along with Healthy Families Florida, could have received millions of dollars from the federal government through the $3.4 million Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting grant allocated to the state through the Affordable Care Act. Healthy Start coalitions are community-based prenatal care centers for at-risk mothers and babies. They provide education and home visiting programs for at-risk first-time mothers, among many other services.
However, the state Legislature has rejected federal funds because legislators say the state is currently in litigation with the federal government over the constitutionality of the law that allocates the funds. (The state did accept funds from the Affordable Care Act for abstinence-only education.)
The move also exempts both programs from possibly receiving up to $50 million more for home visiting programs in Florida, which provide child abuse and neglect prevention.
Several weeks after Healthy Start saw about a 15 percent decrease in its budget and the loss of possible grant money, the organization has started surveying the damage.
Judi Vitucci, the president of the Florida Association of Healthy Start Coalitions, tells The Florida Independent that two-thirds of the coalitions are already reporting that they have had to cut important services such as training and education for their employees. Vitucci says the coalitions are trying to keep their most important services “intact.”
Vitucci says that “already approximately 100 positions have been lost and about 7,183 clients will not receive Healthy Start services because of the loss of funding.”
She says that is in the past few decades Healthy Start has helped decrease infant mortality in the state by more than 20 percent.
Now, Vitucci says, the coalitions are having to access the needs in their communities and prioritize. She says that most coalitions are having to focus on mostly “the riskiest populations.”
“Some would say the people that would benefit the most are not the direst generational-poverty populations,” she says. “We would probably be most beneficial to first-time parents, for example.”
However, she says because of resources and the increased need among this population, other groups are not getting the help they used to get from Healthy Start.
“The more we continue to cut funding,” Vitucci says, “the more we affect the ability for these women to have stable families.”