So Wolf said he felt betrayed when DeSantis used a line-item veto this week to nix $150,000 that would have funded a program offering mental health services for Pulse survivors and their families at an Orlando LGBT center.
“I had hope that [meeting] was the beginning of a new kind of relationship with the governor’s mansion,” Wolf told The Post. “But it turns out two years later that it was a lie.”
LGBT activists and Democrats have criticized DeSantis this week over the cut, which came on the second day of Pride Month and days before the shooting’s fifth anniversary, despite a budget reserve of $9.5 billion. Coupled with other cuts aimed at LGBT programs and DeSantis’s decision earlier this week to sign a bill barring transgender athletes from participating in high school and college sports, critics described his moves as an “attack” on the community.
“VETOING funding for @pulseorlando survivors days before the 5 year remembrance is heartless. VETOING funds for LGBTQ homeless youth is indefensible,” tweeted state Rep. Carlos. G. Smith (D), the state’s first openly gay Latino legislator. “During #Pride2021 following your attack on trans youth? @GovRonDeSantis what did LGBTQ people do to you to earn your contempt?”
DeSantis’s office, though, has pushed back on the criticism by pointing out that the state’s budget increased overall funding to community mental health services by $212 million, calling claims that his vetoes would hurt Pulse survivors “patently false.”
“Governor DeSantis has been a champion on mental health since day one — and he absolutely supports each and every Floridian who has experienced such horrific trauma, which has a lifelong impact on survivors,” Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’s spokeswoman, told the The Post in an email on Friday.
She added, “No Floridian in need should go without mental health care, and of course that includes survivors of horrific traumas like the Pulse shooting. The fact that Gov. DeSantis vetoed funds earmarked for a specific organization doesn’t negate his administration’s historic investments in mental health for all Floridians, including LGBTQ communities.”
But staff at the LGBT+ Center Orlando, which lost the $150,000 in state funding, said the governor’s veto would definitely hurt Pulse survivors and other LGBT residents in the area.
Joél Morales, the Center Orlando’s director of operations, said that earlier this year, the center took over a counseling services program offered to Pulse survivors and the families of those killed. A federal grant had previously paid for similar services in the state, but it ended in 2019. Without state funding, the center can’t afford to keep running the program, which currently serves 68 families and survivors.
“We only requested $150,000, which is the bare minimum to just sustain the program as it is,” Morales told The Post. “It was a slap in the face. I bawled just because of all the hard work our community is doing and the healing that still needs to be done.”
In addition to vetoing the Center Orlando’s funding on Wednesday, DeSantis also cut $750,000 of state funding that would have gone to the Orlando-based Zebra Coalition, a group that plans to convert part of an unused hotel into housing for homeless LGBTQ youth.
The backlash to DeSantis’s vetoes was swift from Democrats in the state legislature.
“It’s 100% political and there was no shortage of money this legislative session — especially when all we asked for was $150,000 out of a $101 billion dollar budget,” tweeted Rep. Anna V. Eskamani (D).
Although DeSantis has pointed to the more than $200 million added to community mental health services statewide in his budget, Wolf and Morales said there’s no guarantee those programs will impact Pulse survivors the way the existing program at the Center Orlando did.
“You have said that there’s other money,” Wolf told The Post. “How much of it is going to these survivors? They have not been able to answer that question. It’s shameful.”