State Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples (Pic by Mark Foley, via myfloridahouse.gov)

The Florida House has moved to eliminate the $3.4 million in federal grant money for child abuse prevention and maternal care home visiting that advocates fought hard for last year.

A budget proposal (.pdf) put forward by the chair of the House’s Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, state Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, called for “eliminat[ing]” the “Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Visiting Grant.” Hudson has been against accepting the money since it was brought to the Legislature for approval.

The state was awarded $3.4 million from the federal government — through the Affordable Care Act — to give to groups that provide home visiting programs. Such programs have been shown to provide effective child abuse and neglect prevention, as well as pregnancy prevention for teens.

The Florida Legislature originally declined the grant last year because the state is waging a legal battle over the very law that allocated the funds.

Child advocates were upset over a possible missed opportunity to make up for budget shortfalls in programs run by Healthy Families Florida and Healthy Start. Both organizations carry out home visiting programs for at-risk families. In the previous two years, the groups had suffered large budget cuts, and representatives said the $3.4 million grant would have been a boost to their programs.

State policy-makers eventually agreed to accept the funds, once they were told that denying them would disqualify the state from applying for millions in federal education dollars through the Race to the Top program.

The Appropriations chairwoman, state Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, told colleagues that she was completely against the Affordable Care Act when a budget committee convened last September to accept the funds. She said that when the government takes on these sorts of roles it causes us all to “lose our compassion.”

But because the federal government tied the home visiting program to the Race to the Top dollars, she eventually voted in favor of the grant.

In December, though, the feds announced that Florida was not awarded the $100 million in Race to the Top money.

“The House budget removes the authority for this grant because Florida did not receive the Federal funding associated with it,” Florida House Press Secretary Ryan Duffy wrote in an email to The Florida Independent.

State Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, a Democratic ranking member on the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, said that the grant represents an “investment in our future.” He believes the funding for these programs is in jeopardy, again, because of the “philosophical opposition to the Affordable Care Act” in the Legislature.

“We haven’t had public discussion of this yet,” Pafford said, “and we have not been provided any explanation.”

“I don’t understand the logic here,” he said.

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