NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The state of Tennessee declined federal funding for HIV prevention, prompting quick backlash from state Democrats.

“I’ve had a relative pass away from HIV. It was years ago, before modern medicine and treatment,” Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said. “Fortunately now, because the government has invested in prevention and treatment, the government has saved countless lives.”

Clemmons said he was leery about sharing his personal connection because he didn’t want to politicize it. But he felt compelled because of the decision to not accept what Democrats call ‘free money.’

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“It’s unconscionable,” Clemmons said. “For those of us who have witnessed a loved one suffering from this horrible and ultimately dying from this virus, it just shocks the conscience.”

Instead, the state health department said it’s planning on using state money for HIV prevention, writing in a release, “This administration is examining areas where it can decrease its reliance on federal funding and assume increased independence.”

“It’s important that it is spent effectively and efficiently in ways that best serve Tennesseans,” Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) said. “So, we think that we can do that better than the strings attached with the federal dollars that came our way, and that’s why we made that decision.”

Particularly noteworthy is that the federal funding gives money to Planned Parenthood, an organization Republicans have tangled with because of its history of providing abortion care.

Instead, Lee said other nonprofits will be involved to fight HIV.

“Those funds will then be directed at whatever organizations are serving those populations the best,” he said.

But Democrats say the move is more political than it is intelligent.

“We’ve seen leadership not just from Democrats, but by President George W. Bush, President Donald Trump – who I don’t always compliment,” Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) said. “But he put real money into this effort.”

Several Democratic leaders in the state share the same thoughts as Yarbro.

“What we want is to encourage our Tennessee Department of Health to reconsider this decision,” Sen. London Lamar (D-Memphis) said. “This is free money from the federal government that is being passed through the department. It’s not like the state is putting any money into this fund in the first place.”

Lamar argued that people – particularly people of color – are most at risk for HIV and don’t necessarily trust the Health Department.

“Many citizens don’t trust the Department of Health, regardless,” she said. “So, what you’re going to do is discourage individuals from going to get tested and treatment for HIV, which would then, in return, be a consequence to spreading HIV in our communities.”

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The federal funding, for years, has come from the CDC. According to the Center, it provided over $10 million and over 110,000 HIV tests to organizations across Tennessee.

Now, that burden will be on the state.