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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.

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As I write this post, the clock reads “1:09 am,” yet I can’t sleep, in part due the bad news for Georgia’s kids that keeps reverberating in my brain.

And, I wonder… which of our dreams for the future of Georgia’s children have been dashed by the current budget crisis?

I’ve emerged from a sobering three days spent listening to various heads of the state agencies presenting their proposed budgets for the remainder of the current fiscal year and FY 2011.

Just a few of the cuts to services that affect children throughout the state include:
• Cutting $800 million in the basic funding schools receive this year and in FY 2011;
• Reducing pre-adoption assistance contracts with organizations that assist DHS in recruiting and screening potential adoptive homes;
• Cutting $1.3 million in FY 10 for the Independent Living Program for youth aging out of foster care;
• Cutting $518,000 from family violence reduction programs in FY 10;
• Cutting food stamp eligibility worker positions;
• Reducing funding for Federally Qualified Health Centers;
• Cutting Medicaid provider rates; and
• Eliminating resource coordinators who work with Georgia pre-K families.

These cuts must be giving agency heads nightmares.

B.J. Walker, Commissioner of Human Services, called cuts to her agency “painful” and said that some cuts would result in the agency not being able to deliver the same standard of services. She said that the budget crisis has required her and her staff to take a hard look at “what are ‘must dos’ versus ‘should dos’ and ‘nice to dos’” for the kids in her agency’s care.

Secretary of Education, Kathy Cox, told legislators that the deep cuts to the Department of Education will mean than failing schools will not get the assistance they need to improve and ensure better outcomes for Georgia’s students.

And, Dr, Rhonda Medows who leads the Department of Community Health, told lawmakers that unless they approve proposals to generate new revenue by instituting hospital and Medicaid provider fees, they will have to either drastically cut rates to Medicaid providers or cut the entire Medicaid program upon which 1.6 million Georgians and an entire healthcare industry relies.

Despite the grim news, I know this: members of the legislative leadership do care about our youngest citizens and our strong community of child advocates will speak up for kids throughout the legislative session.

This gives me the courage to hope for peaceful slumber and not nightmares when I finally shut my eyes.

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