TALLAHASSEE, FL – The Florida Legislature votes today on the state budget, the only bill the Florida Constitution requires that it pass.
The record $117 billion budget includes $2 million in recurring funding to promote oral health and support students studying dentistry. The funding is to implement a Dental Student Loan Repayment Program, to encourage graduating dentists to practice in Florida and serve low-income patients in rural and underserved areas.
Joe Anne Hart, chief legislative officer for the Florida Dental Association, called the funding a “win-win” because those who graduate with an average $300,000 in student loan debt can now tap into to receiving $50,000 a year to repay their loans, up to five years of participating in the program.
“This would be an opportunity for them to start practicing and not have to worry about that obligation of repaying that loan,” she said, “and still being able to help those in need in underserved communities.”
Florida is one of only five states that hasn’t had a Dental Student Loan Repayment Program. Another 500,000 in the budget would support the 2024 Florida Mission of Mercy, an annual two-day dental event by the Florida Dental Association Foundation to provide treatment for people who lack access to dental care.
Hart said the Florida Mission of Mercy, which is held in a different city each year, has so far provided more than 13,000 patients with donated dental care valued at more than $13 million. She said the Foundation has operated and funded the program on its own, and is now thankful to receive some state support.
“It will allow us to be able to have a more stable program,” she said. “We have about 900 people that potentially are on the waiting list to get services and be able to encourage more dentists to volunteer, and to provide that free care.”
The American Children’s Campaign said in a statement that dental-care “access for children is dire as it is for adults,” and noted that the Florida Dental Association has identified dental-care shortage areas in 66 of Florida’s 67 counties. Gov. Ron DeSantis has final approval of the budget line-item details.