State Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, says he is “shocked and surprised” that Gov. Rick Scott cut funding for a community health center in Apopka that would have gone toward providing specialized care to a community of farmworkers facing serious illnesses due to pesticide use.
Siplin has been term-limited this year and has run out of time to fight for this project, a priority of his.
Apopka, a community outside of Orlando, has been facing a health crisis that has caught the attention of researchers, health providers and policymakers. The community has a large population of seasonal farm workers and minorities.
This is the second time that Scott vetoed the funding. Last May, the Republican governor removed the funding to trim down the budget.
Siplin told me last September that he was optimistic a veto would not happen again. He said he was committed to getting help to Apopka Health Center and that helping the residents of Apopka had become “a priority in [his] life as a state senator.”
According to Siplin, the community has needed help for years. Ten to 15 years ago, he said, Apopka farmworkers were being sprayed with pesticides. “Now, they are burying someone almost every weekend,” he told me. “I feel they have been mistreated.”
According to a study from the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine, Siplin’s feelings are justified. The study warned that pesticides in the area present “a highly prevalent problem that is related to both chronic and acute conditions and generational adverse effects.”
It also found that “the most common complaint [of farmworkers] was cold-like symptoms, followed by gastritis and musculoskeletal problems.” About 80 percent of the Hispanic migrant workers were found to be overweight or obese, with high blood pressure. Many of them face an “inability to receive consistent, affordable care while being exposed to multiple occupational hazards” due to a number of factors, including “language barriers, lack of health insurance, lack of transportation, fear of immigration policies, and low socioeconomic statuses.”
Mark Dickinson, CFO and interim CEO of the health center, told The Florida Independent last year that the funds Scott vetoed would have gone to a “high population of migrant farmers.” Due to the “prolonged exposure to pesticides” and strenuous labor, he said, the workers require “specialty intervention” for illnesses ranging from Lupus to Rhumetoid Arthritis.
Dickinson also said last year that he hoped the center would receive additional state funds for its specialty care efforts.
Due to Scott’s veto, the center will have to wait another year, at least.
Siplin says he was “shocked and surprised the governor would cut money that would save people’s lives.”
“I thought he was a Christian. I thought he cared about people’s lives,” he says.
According to Siplin, he spoke with Scott’s chief of staff about the project — and had even recently spoken to Scott. But it wasn’t enough to stop the item from being slashed from the budget.
“He did what he did,” Siplin says. “He kept money for soccer and other questionable things, but he allows poor black farmworkers to die.”
Siplin says the best hopes for the project in the future are that influential Florida senators such as Joe Negron and Don Gaetz remain supportive of the project. He also hopes that his wife, who is currently angling to run for his seat, will take up the fight.
When asked his thoughts on why the project was yet again vetoed, Siplin says that Scott simply “didn’t want to do it.”
“Let’s call a spade a spade,” he said. “This is simply a display of lack of compassion for dying people. I am praying for him.”