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12 Month Enrollment for Medicaid: There is much discrepancy about what a change from 6 to 12 month enrollment would actually cost/save.  While it is definitely good for kids, the barrier seems to be a reluctance to implement because of the projected cost within the context of a difficult budget climate.  Status:  Unfunded.

PeachCare Co-Pays: PeachCare has always required families to pay insurance premiums but not co-pays.  This proposal to add co-pays made it through the budget process and supposedly will be implemented. Before such changes can be implemented, however, DCH must first provide Public Notice of the change with opportunity for public comment, after which DCH must then submit a State Plan Amendment to CMS and must await approval before families can assess co-pays.   Status:  Implementation of PeachCare Co-Pays were relied upon in the balancing of the 2012 Budget.

Children 1st Funding: As a result of the transition of administrations, funding for the Children 1st 0-5 screenings was initially eliminated.  Active advocacy on the part of a number of organizations resulted in restoration of $2.8 of the $2.9 Million dollars needed for the program.  Status:  Restored.

Medicaid Provider Reimbursements: The budget lowered provider reimbursements by ½ of a percent this year.  Continuing to decrease provider reimbursements year after year causes concern as to how this will further limit access to providers for those enrolled in Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids.  Status:  Dollars saved by the state in reducing provider Medicaid reimbursements were relied upon in the balancing of the 2012 Budget.

School Nurses: Perhaps one of the most reliable access points for child health, funding for school nurses should be watched closely every year, especially in such a tight budget climate.  School nurse funding took another hit this year, though not as great as originally feared.  Status:  The School Nurse budget line ended up with a 4 percent cut as opposed to the 10 percent cut originally proposed in the Governor’s budget.

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As was mentioned last month through this Blog, on July 1, Georgia began our state fiscal year in the red. The anticipated 6-month extension of the enhanced FMAP had not been passed into law, leaving our state short $375 million dollars. 

But earlier today, the Senate voted in favor of a bill that would provide $16.1 billion for FMAP and also $10 billion for education jobs within states.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called members of the House of Representatives to return from their August recess to take a vote on this measure next Tuesday.  Passsage of this funding would arrive at a critical time to help keep our state budget afloat. 

We are not completely in the black, however.  Of the $16.1 billion in federal funds, an estimated $228 million will flow to Georgia, still leaving us about $150 million short for our current fiscal year.  Unless additional dollars are made available to Georgia, we may once again have to brace ourselves for further cuts.

One of the ways in which federal legislators paid for this bill is through reductions starting in 2014 in extra food stamp benefits provided under the 2009 economic stimulus bill.  This is cause for concern since many of the Georgia families who rely on Medicaid and PeachCare coverage for their children also rely on food stamps to help put food on their table.  We understand the urgency of addressing current budget needs, yet we’re concerned about the future negative impact on the food stamp program.  The continuing recession is costing more of our neighbors their jobs, which leads to more kids without health insurance and more kids going hungry. 

Tough choices must be made–there’s no doubt about that.  We just want to make sure that the impact on kids and families is considered with every vote taken.

Joann Yoon, Assoc. Policy Director for Child Health

Voices for Georgia’s Children

Pre-K is “arguably the best investment we can make in education.”  So said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on July 29 during a live broadcast on Sirius XM Radio.  When asked about the role of Pre-K in the upcoming reauthorization of the nation’s major education bill, Secretary Duncan was clear that K-12 needs to be invested in early childhood education.

Those who worry about college education likewise recommend investing in pre-school education.  The College Board recently decried the fact that the U.S. is slipping in its ranking of college-educated adults.  The solution?  According to Gasper Caperton, president of the College Board, we must  “think P-16 and improve education from pre-school through higher education.”

In the past 17 years Georgia has spent $12 billion of lottery funds to support both Pre-K and college access.  Yet we have not significantly increased our national rankings in either K-12 achievement or college completion.  Why not?  The objectives may be right but perhaps the program designs are wrong.  We need a better return on our investment.  This is the challenge for the next governor and legislature. 

Pat Willis, Executive Director

Voices for Georgia’s Children

Sine Die can’t come soon enough for those of us who are weary from the longer than usual legislative session.  Yet, the General Assembly still has a full day ahead, and the 40th day can be a dangerous time as  troubling amendments can be attached to seemingly innocuous bills.

Most of my day will be spent watching out for amendments to bills that can affect kids.

The major item that the House and Senate must pass is the FY 11 conference committee report on the budget.  Based on tonight’s conference committee meeting, I expect that House and Senate leadership will congratulate each other tomorrow on the work that they did together to ensure that core state services are funded.  They will state that the budget process this year was transparent, that legislators in both chamber came together to make hard decisions in tough budget times, and they will state that the primary objective of the budget is to help strengthen Georgia’s economy.  Then, they will pass the budget.

But, tomorrow is also expected to be a day on which some of the most controversial social issues, including guns and abortion, are debated on the floor.  A conference committee is expected to meet to work to ensure that provisions on graduated sanctions are included in a juvenile justice bill.  The House could take up a bill that would base teacher salaries on student performance.  And the House and Senate must reach agreement on bills banning texting while driving.

And, throughout the day, we’ll learn who is filing to run for office and who is opting to retire as election qualifying week continues and legislators take the well to tell their colleagues that this will be their last sine die as members of the House or Senate.  Many members are retiring or leaving the legislature to run for other office.  The last number of empty seats expected was 21.

Voices will be at the Capitol all day and will share news about legislation relevent to children’s advocates.

Mindy Binderman

Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy

www.georgiavoices.org

The Conference Committee on FY 2011 Budget held a public meeting tonight to sign the conference committee report that will be presented to the House and Senate tomorrow.  I waited all day for news of the meeting and had returned home when I received notice that the conferees would be meeting at 9 pm. 

It was worth the drive back downtown to hear a little good budget news.  So far, based on comments at the meeting and discussion with the always helpful, calm, knowledgeable and gracious budget staff afterwards, I have be able to confirm that the conferees:

  • Rejected the Senate’s proposed additional $727,000 cut to school nurses;
  • Provided $10 million for a new needs based HOPE scholarship (the Senate had proposed $52 million while the House had originally included nothing)
  • Cut by about half the Senate’s proposal to reduce DJJ funds for a regional principal, an assistant principal, and 17 certified teaching positions and replacing them with 15 GED instructors;
  • Rejected the $3.1 million in DJJ funding proposed by the Senate which would have eliminated summer school in 18 Secure Detention Facilities (RYDCs).
  • Included Peachcare Premiums in the amount proposed in the House Budget and attached budget language proposed by the Senate;
  • Fully funded Medicaid,  and
  • Included funds for programs for foster care families without a specific reference to Project Embrace.

 

I did not get details about Babies Born Healthy or specific items in the Department of Education budget which, according to comments from Chairman Harbin, may have been spared some cuts and hope to have more information in the morning.

We can’t forget that, in context, the FY 11 budget, as well as the FY 10 amended budget, contain deep, potentially devastating cuts to child welfare programs, education, and benefits eligibility workers.  Most of the conference committee actions for kids reduce but do not eliminate program cuts. Yet, the conferees deserve our thanks for trying to alleviate a bit of the harm that a few specific cuts may have inflicted.

The conference committee report will be delivered to the House and Senate tomorrow- just in time for Sine Die.

Mindy Binderman

Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy

www.georgiavoices.org

After several hours of debate and a delay to allow the Senate to pass HB 1055 which raises certain user fees, contains the hospital bed tax and phases in property tax cuts and income tax cuts for seniors, the House passed the FY 11 budget today.  The budget now goes to the Senate.

In response to Georgia’s continuing fiscal crisis, the budget passed by the House contains deep cuts to K-12 education and child welfare workers, furloughs of state workers, reduction in the number of case workers and benefits workers.  Yet, Voices was pleased that the House has endorsed two Voices funding priorities.

The House’s version of the FY 11 budget contains the necessary state match for the implementation of the Planning for Healthy Babies Medicaid waiver program.  When it implements the waiver, the Department of Community Health can pull down 90 cents from the federal government for every 10 cents of state funds spent to provide women under 200 percent of the federal poverty limits with health services targeted to ensure healthy pregnancies and decrease the number of very low birth weight infants in our state. Not only does this promote better child outcomes but it is also projected to bring significant savings to Georgia.

In addition, Voices has also spoken against the Governor’s proposed cut to the lottery funded pre-k Resource Coordinator program which provides vital services to empower parents to become engaged in their child’s education.  We are happy to note that the House version of the FY 11 budget, reduces the size of the cut to Resource Coordinators by 50% while also funding 2000 new pre-k slots.

We’ve passed an important hurdle and will continue to work with members of the Senate to ensure that amendments to these items are not made in the Senate’s version of the FY 11 budget.

Mindy Binderman

Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy

www.georgiavoices.org

Yesterday was the most drama-filled day at the Capitol that I have experienced in my nearly 4 sessions of lobbying in Georgia.

The focus of the day was the Senate’s scheduled vote on HB 307 which will temporarily raise needed revenues for Medicaid.  HB 307 implements a three-year, 1.45 percent provider fee on hospitals to generate $169 million in net new revenue. These revenues fund Medicaid services and provider reimbursements, helping to fill a gap in Medicaid funding due to the recession.

HB 307 has been the subject of controversy for most of the session since it was proposed by Governor Perdue.  Originally, hospitals, with the support of key leaders in the House, strenuously opposed the measure.  Yet, when the governor stated that if HB 307 does not pass, the Medicaid program will face severe cuts to provider reimbursements and the Senate refused to consider a tobacco tax increase, the hospital association changed its position and agreed to support the bill.

Yesterday, the Senate recessed twice so that leadership could work to convince members to vote for HB 307.  The Democratic Caucus, in the meantime, resolved to vote against the measure. In the end, the measure passed with an amendment that would eliminate health insurance premium taxes sometime in the future.

 The AJC’s account of the vote gives an accurate picture of what happened yesterday and today’s aftermath in which House Speaker Ralston has said that he will reject the Senate’s amendments and send the bill back to the Senate.

From the beginning of the 2010 session, Voices has spoken out for the need to fill the Medicaid hole and avoid reimbursement rate cuts that would have a devastating impact on the health care infrastructure of Georgia.  We have urged that all options, including the hospital fee and the tobacco tax be considered.

The political drama continues, yet, what remains clear is that the legislature must work together to resolve the looming Medicaid crisis by approving new revenue sources.

Mindy Binderman, Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy

Voices for Georgia’s Children

www.georgiavoices.org

The House unanimously passed SB 206, the tax transparency bill today. The bill, which requires a regular accounting of tax breaks to bring more transparency and accountability into tax decisions, will now go to the Governor for signature.

Voices, along with a host of other groups, supports SB 206 because good government provisions like this that provide accurate and timely information for advocates ensure better outcomes for children.

Raise your voice for Georgia’s children and families!

Join us at a RALLY FOR REVENUES on Tuesday, March 23rd at 2 pm at the Georgia State Capitol (Washington Street Side).

State budget cuts are already threatening access to health providers, education, child welfare, and quality pre-K in Georgia and around the country. 

This column from New York Time’s columnist Bob Herbert quotes Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician who is president of the Children’s Health Fund in New York and a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Dr. Redlener says:

“We’re looking at all these cuts in human services — in health care, in education, in after-school programs, in juvenile justice. This all points to a very grim future for these children who seem to be taking the brunt of this financial crisis.”

In Georgia, advocates, including Voices for Georgia’s Children, have joined together to call for a more balanced approach to the budget crisis so that Georgia can address the current crisis while also ensuring that our children and our state are well positioned in the future. This crisis cannot be addressed by cuts alone.  The governor and state legislators have already cut essential programs deeply, threatening our state’s progress.  Now, leaders must consider revenue measures.

Raise your voice with us on Tuesday to ensure that revenue options should not be off the table.

Mindy Binderman

Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy

www.georgiavoices.org

The legislature took a 2 week break ostensibly to deal with the state budget and returned today, seemingly without resolution on either the FY 10 amended or the FY11 budgets, to more bad budget news .

The Governor released the February 2010 revenue numbers today.  The revenue collections for the month of February 2010 compared to February 2009 were down 9.9%.  And, last February was pretty grim. 

The news brought demands from Senator Chip Rogers for even more budget cuts, but we are also hearing that some legislators are slowly warming to the idea of the tobacco tax or other new revenues.  That is the only good news in a increasingly dismal budget atmosphere- we cannot simply cut our way out of this budget mess without hurting Georgia’s children and the future growth to our state that they represent. 

There are some rumors that legislators might take another break soon to wait for the March revenue numbers.  Unfortunately, I am not optimistic that next month’s revenues will improve enough to make a difference.

The time has come for a more balanced approach.

 Mindy

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