Following a report that his predecessor’s administration turned down $70 million in federal money to fight HIV and AIDS, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday that he has already met with federal officials to boost the support for HIV prevention and treatment.
“Not only are we taking a look at it, I met personally with the director of the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] in my office within the past couple of months,” the governor told reporters in Naples – which happens to be home to former Gov. Rick Scott, now Florida’s junior U.S. senator.
“They are interested in providing a lot of funding for the effort,” DeSantis said. “As soon as they figure out how much money they can give, when we can go ahead and announce it, our hope is that we’ll be able to go with a really robust program that will have the potential to dramatically reduce HIV/AIDS.”
The Guardian reported that, under Scott, state health officials refused to seek legislative authority to roll over $54 million in unspent federal HIV grants, forcing county health officials to return the money. Additionally, the Scott administration blocked Miami-Dade and Broward counties, both suffering high caseloads, from applying for $16 million in CDC grants for HIV prevention.
A reporter asked DeSantis about the report during a news conference called to discuss the governor’s plan to boost spending on Everglades restoration and hike penalties for local governments that cause water pollution.
DeSantis has been known to diverge from Scott policies, sometimes sharply. During his first weeks in office, for example, he rescinded more than 200 Scott appointments to state agencies, boards, and commissions, asserting his own authority to people his administration.
“If we do it right, you will actually see an increase in infection rates at first, because we’ll be finding ways to bring people out of the shadows who just aren’t getting seen,” DeSantis said of his HIV plan. Longer term, he hopes to reduce transmission of the virus, apparently through tools including pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, drugs, which have proven effective in blocking infections.
“I actually hoped we could do it by now, but we just haven’t gotten the sign-off from the feds,” he said.
State health officials reported an 18 percent decrease in HIV diagnoses between 2008 and 2017, when the state saw 9,494 new cases, but infections began trending upward in 2013. As of 2016, Florida was home to 108,003 people living with HIV.