Over the past months, as local governments strained their budgets to pay for the fight against Zika, Florida has left largely untapped a $27 million emergency preparedness fund from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and $8.4 million in federal grants — both of which can be used by the state to combat the virus.
State officials insist nearly all of the money is simply part of Florida’s usual allocation from the CDC and doesn’t count as extra cash to help with anti-Zika efforts.
The majority of the CDC funding “is not specific to Zika,” said Mara Gambineri, a Florida Department of Health spokeswoman, who added that only $9.7 million in new money has been awarded to the state.
But federal officials say Florida has yet to use all of the money available to the state. The emergency preparedness funds and grant money can be spent to boost laboratory capacity for testing and research, strengthen disease surveillance and investigations, and improve mosquito control.
As of Sept. 21 — the day before Gov. Rick Scott visited Miami Beach to announce that he had allocated $25 million in state funds for Zika vaccine research — Florida had spent $1.6 million from the available $27 million in emergency preparedness funds and none of the grants, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“Florida can decide to use all $27 million from that pool on Zika,” said Kevin Griffis, the HHS assistant secretary for public affairs.
Asked why Florida has not used more of the CDC money, Scott said during his visit to Miami Beach on Sept. 22 that those dollars are part of the federal agency’s annual funding to the state.
“Most of that money is already money they already allocate through our Department of Health,” Scott said at the time. “So a very small amount of that is new money.”
Earlier that day, Scott had said he believes the federal government has failed Florida.
“I want to bring all the resources I can to the table,” Scott said. “That’s why I’ve gone to Washington. That’s why I’ve allocated, under my emergency power as governor, dollars from the state both to combat Zika and now to help come up with a vaccine and an innovative testing model.
“While I’m still hopeful the federal government will do their part,” he added, “we can’t keep waiting for the federal government.”
I want to bring all the resources I can to the table.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott on fighting Zika
McKinley Lewis, the governor’s deputy communications director, said on Monday that the state has been using “any and all available resources from the CDC,” including an emergency response team the federal agency dispatched at Scott’s request in August to help combat the spread of Zika in Miami-Dade.
“Contrary to what HHS has told you,” Lewis said in an email, “the majority of the $35 million ($26,515,932) is the Public Health Emergency Preparedness grant which [Department of Health] receives on an annual basis and was not allocated in response to Zika.”
He said the money funds many health department programs, “including the entire Division of Emergency Preparedness and Response and is not specific to Zika.”
Gambineri, the health department spokeswoman, said the emergency preparedness funds are used to meet CDC standards for responding to all hazards, from emerging diseases to natural disasters and even terrorism. Any change, she said, requires CDC approval and would impact the state’s ability to respond to other health threats.
“For example,” she said in an email, “the department’s coordination and assistance was required during Hurricane Hermine and the Pulse nightclub shooting.”
Gambineri and Lewis said the federal government has allocated more in Zika-specific funds for Florida than the $8.4 million in grants that HHS reported. They said the amount is closer to $9.6 million, and that the state has budgeted — but not spent — nearly all of it.
“If additional federal funds are eventually allocated to the state, it will be used to reimburse any state General Revenue already spent,” Lewis said. “Unfortunately, the federal government hasn’t done this yet.”
But HHS spokesman Griffis said that in order to receive the funds, Florida’s health department just has to submit invoices for Zika-related expenses and then wait for the agency’s approval.
“That’s it,” he said.
$1.6M Amount that Florida has requested from CDC to fight Zika as of Sept. 21
Griffis said Florida has wide discretion in how it chooses to use the annual emergency preparedness funds because public health priorities can vary by year and by state.
As the number of mosquito-borne Zika infections in Florida rises, with 10 more cases confirmed in Miami-Dade on Monday, local governments have borne greater expenses for mosquito control and monitoring, public education campaigns and other efforts — precisely the kind of activities the CDC dollars were meant to fund.
But many counties have yet to be reimbursed by the state for their Zika-related expenses.
Miami-Dade requested $6 million from the state in August to help pay for aerial spraying, outreach and other efforts to combat a Zika outbreak in Wynwood. After a second Zika outbreak emerged in Miami Beach, county officials estimated the tab for fighting the virus would rise to $10 million.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez did not respond on Monday to requests for comment, though he said on Sept. 19 that Florida had sent the county “$300,000 to $400,000” for Zika expenses.
In Broward County — which has not had an outbreak — Mayor Martin “Marty” Kiar said his government has received about $140,000 from Florida for mosquito control. Broward is expecting an additional $80,000 from Florida for additional expenses related to Zika.
Broward Commissioner Lois Wexler noted that the county recently dipped into financial reserves to pay for mosquito control workers and other anti-Zika efforts.
“The number of calls that were coming in requesting spraying had skyrocketed compared to normal circumstances,” she explained.
Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine said Florida needs more federal money to help in the fight against Zika, and he accused the governor of politicking with a public health crisis.
“There seems to be a big disconnect between Washington and Miami,” he said, “and that disconnect is in Tallahassee. I’ve never heard of a governor in a state putting money toward a vaccine. Once again, that's a job for the CDC. We call that grandstanding.”
Total CDC Support for Florida
- $8.4 million in Zika-specific funding and $27 million in Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) funding that can be used to support Zika response efforts, for a total of $35.4 million.
- At Florida’s request, CDC has sent a full CDC Emergency Response Team (CERT) with experts in Zika virus, pregnancy and birth defects, mosquito control, laboratory science, and risk communications.
- Additional staff to support the Florida Department of Health (FLDOH), including an epidemiologist.
- 10,000 cans of the insect repellent DEET, which can be distributed in communities to ward off mosquito bites.
- Material for 6,300 Zika tests.
- Florida can also use CDC funds to purchase Zika Prevention Kits or items needed for kits.
$8.4 million in Zika-specific grants to Florida yet to be used
- June: $700,000 – at Florida’s request, CDC awarded these funds to help build laboratory capacity, enhance epidemiological surveillance and investigation, improve mosquito control and monitoring. This funding included $500,000 for mosquito control in seven counties: Broward, Palm Beach, Osceola, Hillsborough, Orange, Martin and St. Lucie.
- July: $1.38 million to Florida in Public Health Preparedness and Response (PHPR) funding to help rapidly identify cases, coordinate a response across all levels of government, identify and connect affected families to community services, and purchase preparedness resources like repellent and supplies for Zika prevention kits.
- July: $5.6 million in additional ELC funding to build laboratory capacity, enhance epidemiological surveillance and investigation, improve mosquito control and monitoring, and contribute data to the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry.
- August: $720,000 in funding to establish, enhance, and maintain information-gathering systems to rapidly detect microcephaly and other adverse outcomes caused by Zika infection; ensure that affected infants and their families are referred to appropriate health and social services; and monitor the health and developmental outcomes of children affected by Zika.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services