Despite turning down money for state programs because of their disagreement with federal health care reform, Florida officials accepted more than $2.5 million made available by the Affordable Care Act to fund its abstinence-only sex education grant program.

The Florida Legislature has faced controversy over its refusal to accept money for dozens of programs that would aid the state as it faces steep budget cuts. State legislators turned down millions in grants for child abuse and neglect prevention, as well as pregnancy prevention for teens. Legislators told Healthy State they turned down the money because they feel the law appropriating the funds — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — is unconstitutional.

The Florida Department of Health tells The Florida Independent that the Legislature accepted $2,601,681 for a Title V Abstinence Education Grant, money “authorized and appropriated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.”

Florida’s abstinence education program is known to place little emphasis on health-related information even though the aim of the program is to address the high rates of STDs and pregnancy among teenagers in Florida. This year, the Department of Health gave 13 different groups $150,000 each in Title V grant money.

Katie Betta — communications director for Speaker of the House Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park — tells the Independent that the Title V money is different from other funds available through the Affordable Care Act.

“These grants represent a continuation of existing funding for programs we have committed to and been engaged in for years,” Betta explains. “There is a clear distinction between a grant for a program that has already been implemented in which the state has a long-standing commitment and a new or expanded program or service the federal government hopes to implement through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

Healthy State previously reported that Cannon’s office said the Legislature “has a well-established policy of not implementing any portion of federal health care reform through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” Among the reasons: The state is currently the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the federal government over the very law that allocates the funds.

Betta told Healthy State that legislators’ suspicion of federal dollars comes from the belief that “there are always strings attached” to the money. As the Independent previously reported, Gov. Rick Scott’s office sent a request to legislators signing off on some of the money because, according to the governor, there were no strings attached.

Brian Burgess, communications director for Scott’s office, wrote to the Independent that in the specific case of the home visiting grants, “the federal funds would not have obligated Florida beyond the Home Health program, so under those circumstances, the Governor is more comfortable accepting the funds.”

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