Gov. DeSantis pushes back after Rick Scott asks states to return some COVID relief money

Florida Senator Rick Scott during an interview on "This Week in Jacksonville." (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Sen. Rick Scott, who voted against the historic $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, continues to bash the bill that aims to help the U.S. defeat the virus and nurse the economy back to health.

Scott, a Republican, said during an interview for Sunday’s This Week in Jacksonville that he wants to “help the people that need to help.”

“Let’s help the people who lost their job. Let’s make sure we help our businesses get going again,” Scott told host Kent Justice. “This bill is not a COVID bill. About 9% of this bill has anything to do with COVID, and 1% has anything to do with vaccines.”

Scott, who was a two-term governor of Florida, called the bill wasteful and raised concerns about the hefty price tag and its effect on the national debt.

“All this money we sent to the states, state revenues are not down around this country, and so I’ve asked the governors for anything they’ve received in excess of the cost of COVID asked them to send it back so we don’t run up another $2 trillion worth of debt,” Scott said. “We already gave the states $500 billion to deal with COVID, but if there’s more, I want them to take money to do that, but give us all the money back.”

According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that only $160 billion of the bill is direct spending on public health. But Democrats who pushed the bill through Congress argue that the pandemic crisis is not just about vaccines or even containing the coronavirus, but a broader economic crisis brought on by the resulting mass unemployment and shuttered businesses. That’s why the bulk of the federal spending is going to help the economy recover.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has already laid out how the state plans to use $4 billion of the $10 billion it expects to receive, pushed back at the idea of giving money back.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” DeSantis told Politico on Tuesday when asked about Scott’s suggestion. “If Florida were to send the money back, [Treasury Secretary Janet] Yellen is going to send it to Illinois, California, New York or New Jersey. I don’t think that would make sense for Floridians — for us to be giving even more money to the blue states that already getting such a big windfall in this bill.”

DeSantis pitched plans Tuesday to use nearly half of the money coming to Florida from a federal stimulus package to bulk up infrastructure, bolster efforts to fight rising sea levels, fix the troubled unemployment system and provide first responders with $1,000 bonuses for their work during the past year.

DeSantis has argued Florida should actually get more money than it is set to receive.

DeSantis said the package penalizes states such as Florida that have lower unemployment rates than other states. The package includes $350 billion for states and the District of Columbia and would divvy up the money based on unemployment rates.

Scott was asked if it was realistic to expect state governments will send federal money back.

“I hope so,” Scott said. “I tried to be very responsible when I was governor, not to take federal program programs I knew that we couldn’t afford in the state.”

You can watch the full interview with Scott where he also touches on other Florida issues like immigration and health care, on This Week in Jacksonville at 9 a.m. Sunday on Channel 4 and at noon Sunday on CW17.

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Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.