By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Last week, Florida politicians lost $50 million for a child abuse prevention program, and very possibly another $100 million connected to the Race to the Top educational program.
And no one is quite sure why, or who, is responsible for the decision.
The money, intended for the Healthy Families program, was part of the Affordable Care Act. That’s President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform package, often called ObamaCare by Florida Republicans who oppose it.
Governor Rick Scott’s office said Healthy Families money was included in his budget request. But Katherine Betta, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Dean Cannon said, “The grant was included in [the state Department of Health’s] legislative budget request, but beyond that, the executive branch never advocated for it, and a budget amendment was not submitted.”
The money would have provided for in-home visits by trained personnel to help young parents identified as at risk of abusing or neglecting their kids. Parents would be taught non-abusive strategies.
For those with doubts about the effectiveness of the program, check out a report about a similar Healthy Families program in New York. Researchers at the State University of New York and the New York State Office of Child and Family Services conducted a seven-year study and came away with some impressive findings:
Mothers in the program had significantly lower rates of abuse and neglect. And they had lower rates of using preventive, protective and placement services.
The kids in the program were more likely to go into gifted programs and less likely to go into special education programs.
And Healthy Families even produced savings.
The study found that, overall, the program produced a net savings of $628 per participant. In families where parents had at least one abuse or neglect report already filed against them, the program resulted in a savings of $12,395 per family, and a return of $3.16 for every dollar invested — a 316 percent return on the initial $3,920 invested by New York.
Who wouldn’t be happy with a 316 percent return on investment?
Apparently State Sen. Joe Negron.
“I believe in providing basic information to parents at hospitals and medical settings,” Negron, a Palm City Republican, told The Miami Herald. “I am not persuaded that it is a good idea to show up at a family’s home year after year giving advice and guidance. I do not think that is a core, essential function of government.”
Such philosophical unease has led to cutbacks in the 13-year-old Florida program — despite successes similar to those in New York.
Last year, 95 percent of those in the Florida program did not have a confirmed incident of child abuse within a year of completing the program. And yet, the program sustained a $10 million cut in this year’s budget, from $28 million to $18 million.
Now, not only will the $50 million be lost, but because the state did not go for the money, it’s also possible it could lose a four-year, $100 million Race for the Top education grant that required the Healthy Families grant as a prerequisite.
And child abuse prevention isn’t the only state program to feel the impact of Florida lawmakers’ political/philosophical squabble with the Affordable Care Act. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the state has turned down $54 million in other federal money.
Programs for seniors and the disabled to move from nursing homes to their own homes, and others providing help to expectant mothers have also been affected.
All in the name of principle. Last year the state filed a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, claiming it was unconstitutional.
“The legislature didn’t feel it was appropriate to take money from a bill that is unconstitutional,” said Rep. Mike Horner, R-St. Cloud. “It seemed that we were being inconsistent.”