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The Department of Community Health’s program, Children 1st, screens all newborns and children up to age 5 to identify those who are at risk for poor health and developmental outcomes. The program then links families to appropriate services. The Governor’s budget, which seems to propose cutting Children 1st funds to the tune of $2.9 million means that it would be harder for the State to identify at-risk children early, significantly lessening the chance that those kids will grow up healthy and ready for school. The loss of these dollars could also increase the demand and cost of special services by delaying treatment from a time when it would be most effective.

Now, technically, we are not sure that the funding is to be officially axed, but the fact that the Governor’s budget did not allocate a specific program line to Children 1st seems to indicate that those funds for the program are on the chopping block. We hope this is not the case, because such a cut to infant and young child health screenings would most definitely lower school readiness and healthy outcomes for kids, as well as raise assessment and treatment costs.

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Why did three Georgia companies merit placement on Fortune magazine’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For?  Because they support child care for their employees, including summer camps in some cases.  AFLAC, Alston & Bird, and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta joined number one ranked SAS, Inc. in North Carolina in offering on-site or accessible quality child care as part of the employment package.  Other child and family-friendly benefits were also detailed in the article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Jan. 21.

If Georgia wants to be seen as a great place to work, ensuring access to quality childcare for families in our workforce is a good place to start.  During the hard economic times of the last two years, Georgia had the benefit of $47 million in federal stimulus funds to eliminate the waiting list for child care subsidies and to help 600 child care centers improve the quality of their programs.  With the loss of those stimulus funds, 10,000 families will be without access to quality care for their kids. 

What will happen?  to the children? to the employees? to employers?  We are likely to see more latchkey kids, more employee absenteeism and lower productivity.  Solutions?  Public/private partnerships, tax credits for employers, child care tax credits for families, and expanding Georgia PreK .

Maybe we can’t do everything at once but let’s start planning for the future.  The greatest innovations and the most effective solutions are born out of hard times.  Let’s seize the opportunity!

Pat Willis, Executive Director

Voices for Georgia’s Children

Today, Legislative Day 3, was what many consider the “first work day” for state lawmakers. No special ceremonies or speeches; no snow or ice. Overall, Georgia House and Senate committees are just getting warmed up, having organizational meetings and starting to examine agency budgets in a little more detail than perhaps they did last week during the FY11/FY12 budget hearings. That said, I think today is an opportune time to discuss a sizeable federal issue which cold affect kids right here at home: Federal budget proposals.

This week, Congressmen and women will vote on a resolution (H. Res 38) reducing federal spending to 2008 levels. This approach exempts defense spending. On the other hand, education, health, nutrition, and child welfare services would sustain significant reductions. For example, in this proposal, dollars going to children in special education grants would be cut by 53 percent. Head Start would be cut by 27 percent. Adoption incentives would be slashed by 89 percent. Yet, discussion on how to raise revenues has been surprisingly absent.

Another proposal by the Republican Study Committee would have Congress reduce spending to 2006 spending levels. This amounts to a $2.5 trillion cut over 10 years. It would even rescind any remaining stimulus money, as well as the bump in Medicaid support passed just last summer.

We believe that children are important to all of Georgia’s lawmakers. That said, if one of these resolutions were to pass, how would states like Georgia make up the difference in lost federal dollars?

The Governor’s FY2012 budget recommends consolidation and transfer of the Georgia Family Connection Partnership (FCP) appropriation from the Department of Human Services (DHS) to the Governor’s Office for Children and Families (GOCF). 


History:
Georgia Family Connection was created 20 years ago to streamline services and systems that impact and serve children and families. FCP’s core principles are local decision-making based on reliable data, accountability, and leveraging resources.

Logic?:
The logic behind this move is baffling. Even today, at the Department of Human Services budget hearing, when Rep. Carolyn Hugley (District 133 – Columbus) asked DHS Commissioner Clyde Reese if he knew the reason for this move, he was unable to provide an answer.

FCP has a reputation for good, reliable work in 159 counties of the state and helps multitudes of children and families. It secures decent funding from the private sector (much of which would be lost if absorbed into GOCF) and has worked well with DHS. All that said, we are left with the inevitable question: What problem would this move solve? I don’t have an answer. Do you?

Pre-K:
The Lottery funded Pre-K budget has been cut by $20 million down to $335 million and is projected to serve the same number of children as in FY2011: 84,000 kids. This endangers not only the quality of the classroom portion of the programs, which were, by national averages, already underfunded by about 25%, but also, potentially the number and function of the Pre-K Transition Coaches, who work in the communities to assess and provide supports for Pre-K families.

HOPE:
For Georgia’s public colleges, the budget for FY2012 is $303 million, down from $474 million. For Georgia’s private colleges, appropriations are down from $59 million to $40 million. Georgia Technical Colleges and Schools have taken a hit as well; FY2012 is budgeted at $132 million down from $206 million in FY2011. Check out our blog posting from 1/18/11 (The Recession is Doing All It Can) for more details.

Bottom Line:
The Governor does not want to count on Lottery reserves to help any of these programs, so something will need to give.

FY 2011:
For the current fiscal year Deal lowered the revenue estimate by $27.5 million while also adding more money for K-12 schools mostly to make up for increased enrollment. Most state agencies will have to enact 4 % cuts for the rest of FY2011, although most agencies have been aware that this could be the case, and so have been preparing for the formal ask.
FY 2012:
For 2012, Governor Deal believes state revenue will be 3.75% higher than the current fiscal year, but the need to replace more than $1 billion in federal stimulus money, which goes away at the end of FY 2011 will negate much of that growth. That said, state agencies are being asked to cut their budgets by an average of 7%.
What’s Next:
The budgets now go to the House Appropriations Committee which traditionally amends the budget, but cannot change the revenue estimates.

Federal Level:
Yesterday, the U.S. House passed H.R. 2, which would repeal the new health law, the Affordable Care Act. The final vote was 245 for and 189 against. Senate Democrats have indicated that this legislation will not be brought to a vote in the Senate Chamber, which means that the bill will not move any further.

State Level:
Thursday, Commissioner Cook presented the Amended Budget for FY2011 and the proposed Budget for FY2012 for the Department of Community Health. The AFY2011 Budget did not contain many significant changes. Within the SFY2012 budget are the following provisions that may negatively impact children:

• Reduction in Medicaid/Peachcare reimbursement rate by 1% for all providers excluding hospital and home and community-based services (note that budget presentations last year projected a significantly higher reduction rate);
• Implementation of new copayments for PeachCare for Kids members age 6 and older and also for certain members within the Medicaid program; and
• Discontinuation of the Babies Born Healthy Program, which provides for prenatal care for pregnant women who often cannot otherwise access health care services.

The SFY2012 budget also has some provisions that will benefit children in Georgia. For one, DCH indicates an anticipated $6 million in federal performance bonus dollars that will be received once the state implements family-friendly administrative changes to enrollment and retention practices for children within the Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids programs. In addition, the budget includes $10 million in a bond amount that will draw down an additional $90 million in federal match dollars, all of which will be used to make improvements to Georgia’s Medicaid eligibility system.

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

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

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