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Janet Cruz says Florida in ‘dire straits’ with LIP funds now off the table

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On Friday, the Rick Scott Administration recognized what had been reported weeks earlier: Florida is losing $1.3 billion of federal money that would otherwise go to help hospitals treat poor and uninsured patients.

When Eliot Fishman, director of the Children and Adults Health Programs Group in the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services (CMCS) at CMS, told attendees at an Orlando health-care conference in mid-February that the federal government wouldn’t extend Florida’s “Low Income Pool” program, Scott press aide Jackie Schultz downplayed the comment. But on Friday, Schultz admitted that the feds won’t provide the funding.

“It is disappointing that the federal government is not extending the federal LIP program, which was started by the federal government in 2005 to help low-income people in Florida access health care,” she said in a statement. “We would be extremely disappointed if the federal government did not agree to an alternative funding solution soon.”

“There was a warning they (the federal government) had no plans to extend it,” says Democratic House Minority Leader Janet Cruz on Sunday afternoon. “Yet our governor added it to the budget, and what we have to do is take a look at this and say, we are in dire straits here.”

The Scott administration was told last summer in an agreement with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers the health-care programs on the federal level, that statewide funding through the low-income program would end this June 30, unless the state agreed to expand Medicaid. Cruz says that even so, “Our governor still had the audacity to include those funds in his budget.”

Tampa General Hospital is slated to lose $85 million if that LIP money is not replaced in the budget, and it could cost state hospitals a total of $2.2 billion, according to Bruce Rueben, president of the Florida Association of Hospitals.

Cruz was elected to represent House District 62 in a special election five years ago, and was named Minority Leader last month. She says she feels she’ll have a good working relationship with House Speaker Steve Crisafulli for the legislative session that kicks off on Tuesday.

“In my dealings with him, he’s always come across as a fair and balanced individual, so I look forward to serving with him,” she told Florida Politics while traveling to Tallahassee on Sunday afternoon. “I feel that he’s accessible, and I feel that I would have access to his office if I have an issue.” Cruz says she doesn’t want that to be misconstrued that the House will be acquiescent,  saying that there are certain issues that as Democrats and Republicans they will never see eye to eye on, but there are others where she hopes to work together with the GOP, including on the major water bill and perhaps medical marijuana.

Cruz says she wants to support a proposal sponsored by Orlando Democratic state Sen. Darren Soto that calls for expunging teen juvenile records so they can get a second chance.

She worked for a few years with Julianne Holt in the Hillsborough County Public Defenders Office, and said she saw too many kids in the Juvenile Division who may have done “something stupid” as a juvenile and have to pay for it the rest of their life. “I fully support this because I think it gives a kid a second chance or gives them a chance once they grow up a little bit to have a normal life.”

And Cruz also supports Miami Republican state Sen. Rene Garcia’s bill to provide driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, but acknowledges that it will be a tough haul. “It’s safer .and cheaper for all Floridians when we have people who are completely and legally insured,” she said.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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