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Legislative panel rejects federal cash for nursing home effort

Friday, June 24th, 2011 by John Kennedy

A legislative panel rejected a federal grant that could have brought Florida $35.7 million over the next five years to help patients move from nursing homes to community care, warning it could lead to state costs lawmakers don’t want to shoulder.

The Legislative Budget Commission, a 14-member panel authorized to make mid-year budget adjustments, voted 8-6 against giving state health care officials authority to accept $2 million in federal funds to plan for the program. A majority from both the House and Senate members was needed for approval, and House members dug-in against the spending.

Some leading Republican lawmakers said the program duplicated state efforts underway and could force the Legislature to pick up the tab for costs once the grant expired.

“I realize these are federal dollars, but they’re still taxpayer dollars,” said House budget chair Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring.

House and Senate Democrats on the panel voted in favor of the grant. And even a pair of prominent Republicans, Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, and Senate Health and Human Services budget chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, were on the losing side, hinting they thought accepting the grant was worthwhile.

House HHS budget chief  Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, said Florida was already doing a good job getting nursing home patients out of costly facilities and back home or with relatives, when appropriate. Since 2009, House officials said the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration with other agencies has moved 1,900 patients to community services — and no patients who wanted to move were denied.

“It’s unnecessary, duplicative, and when you couple that with an estimated $6 million in administrative costs for the program…I would argue that it’s always dangerous to accept federal money,” Schenck said.

Florida is one of 13 states awarded what the federal government called a demonstration grant for the program. The money comes from Congress’ federal health care overhaul, which the state is suing to have overturned. The House earlier this year blocked Senate efforts to include funding to launch the program in the state budget.

Senate unanimously passes budget, okays private prison compromise

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Senate unanimously passed a $69 billion budget this afternoon setting in motion negotiations with the House that is expected to sign off on its plan tomorrow.

The Senate’s plan uses about $3 billion in federal stimulus funds to plug most of a $3.2 billion budget deficit and spends about $1 billion more than the House does.

The plan also relies on more than $880 million in federal funds for Medicaid not yet approved by Congress and more than $400 million from the Seminole tribe in a gambling deal still in the works.

“It’s no doubt one of the most challenging assignments I’ve ever run into. I hazard to guess you all feel the same way,” said Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

Alexander backed off a plan that could have shut down up to five state prisons and opened the private Blackwater prison built and to be operated by Boca Raton-based Geo Group. The revised plan would allow the Panhandle private prison to open without shutting down state prisons.

But the compromise orders corrections officials to pare back their costs by 5 percent in some areas or outsource some functions.

Also still on the table: a $23 million cut to the county clerks of court. Palm Beach County clerk Sharon Bock said that would amount to a $2.7 million cut to her office and force her to fire 100 employees on top of the 101 she laid off last year.

Alexander said that the clerk issue would be dealt with later in negotiations with the House but did not promise all of the money would be put back in.

McCollum blames teachers for Fla losing out on federal education funds

Monday, March 29th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General and GOP gubernatorial hopeful Bill McCollum blamed the teachers’ union for Florida’s failure to win out on the first round of federal “Race to the Top” education funds.

The Florida Education Association, that opposed the stimulus funds, is “now responsible for the loss of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars for Sunshine State students, teachers and schools,” McCollum campaign manager Matt Williams said in a press release.

“Today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Education that Florida was not selected as a first round winner of the Race to the Top competition is a disappointing reminder the unions will continue to put the interests of bureaucracy over the best interests of Florida’s children,” Williams accuses.

Sen. John Thrasher, who also serves as the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, joined in the teacher-bashing chorus although Gov. Charlie Crist said he remained hopeful that the state could ultimately win some of the $4 billion in federal funds.

Florida unemployment holds steady

Friday, August 21st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida’s jobless rate remained at 10.7 percent in July, 1.3 percent points higher than the national unemployment rate of 9.4 percent, the Agency for Workforce Innovation reported today.

The unemployment rate in June and July is the highest in the past 34 years. In October 1975, the jobless rate was 11 percent.

The rate remained steady although the state has already spent more than $944 million of federal stimulus money on unemployment benefits and resources.

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