Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) shocked the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence this week when he vetoed $1.5 million in funding for 30 rape crisis centers in the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. State lawmakers allotted the money to offset an increase in need and a lack of sufficient funding for victim services.
A spokesperson for Scott said he vetoed that particular line item in the state budget because the state already funds sexual violence programs, and nobody was able to make it clear to him why rape crisis centers needed the new funding.
"Governor Scott approved funding for many projects that have statewide impact and do not duplicate programs already funded by the state," Lane Wright, Scott's press secretary, told HuffPost. "This new funding of $1.5 million would have been duplicative, since, as a state, we already fund sexual violence programs. There was no information suggesting any needs in this area weren’t already being met. The state already provides about $6.5 million for rape prevention and sexual assault services. That is in addition to the funds available for domestic violence programs -- $29 million to be specific. Many victims of sexual violence seek refuge at domestic violence shelters."
Jennifer Dritt, the executive director of the Florida Council, said she was "stunned" and "confused" by Scott's move and that she questions his reasoning for slashing the funds.
"We say 'here's the need, here's the need, here's the need,' and frankly, nobody's paying any attention," she told HuffPost. "We gave them information about the number of new survivors we have and we showed them that these rape crisis centers have waiting lists. Survivors are having to wait weeks, sometimes six weeks, in some programs three months to be seen. We included quotes from the programs about the waiting lists and what services they weren't able to offer because of a lack of money. There is clearly an unmet need."
As for the $6.5 million that Scott said the government provides for rape prevention and sexual assault services, a large percentage of that money is distributed to education programs, not actual crisis centers serving the victims.
"He's probably including rape prevention and education money," she said. "You think they would have asked us about that, and we could explain to them very clearly what money is available for our programs. It looks like $1.5 million is a lot of money to ask for, but frankly, when you spread it across 67 counties, it's not."
From a political standpoint, Scott's cuts to sexual violence funding could not have come at a worse time, as Republicans in Congress are taking heat for opposing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. But Scott's spokesman said the governor's decision had nothing to do with the oft-cited GOP "war on women."
"Anyone who’s trying to say this veto is evidence of a war on women, is deliberately trying to mislead the public for political ends," Wright said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misquoted Jennifer Dritt regarding the distribution of state money across Florida counties. She referred to 67 counties. The earlier story incorrectly stated the number of counties Dritt mentioned.