Monitoring the State Budget – Suzie Rosser

As we continue to monitor the state budget process it is apparent that the budget shortfall and resulting cuts will be devastating to programs providing services to children.  Cost estimates alone do not afford an adequate explanation of the potential impact of reduction in the essential services provided through the Mississippi Department of Education and the Mississippi Division of Medicaid.

It is extremely important that as advocates for children we understand how the battle to preserve adequate funding for services is being fought.  The current projection of the revenue shortfall for this year is $347 million. The governor has already cut $224 million. Of that amount, $151 million has come from education.  At this point there is still a $123 million dollar deficit.  Under current law, the Governor can cut most budgets as much as 5% at his discretion.  After all available budgets have been cut 5%, any additional cuts must be across the board.  Governor Barbour is asking the legislature for authority to cut any budget up to 10% at his discretion and to exempt agencies he believes cannot or should not be cut.  The Senate has approved this measure.  It will now move to the House.

Currently, consideration is being given to additional cuts in Education.  Representative Cecil Brown, Chairman House Education Committee, has reported that the House of Representatives offered an alternative plan to the Governor’s consideration of cutting the remaining $123 million from the education budget.  This plan outline includes:  budgets that cannot be cut for legal or practical reasons exempt;   70% of the remaining needed cuts (approximately $91 million) come from education; the remaining $32 million from other agencies.   To date there is no compromise.  Senator Alice Harden has introduced a bill (SB 2402) that would maintain the National Board Certification funding for those currently qualified, but discontinue funding for those entering the Master Teacher certification program after June 2010.  Our lobbyist is monitoring this bill.  We will alert you for action if this bill gains momentum to move from committee.

In addition to physician, hospital and clinic services, Medicaid provides a vital, and sometimes the only, funding source for critical services.  A provision of the Medicaid program, called Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT), ensures that children enrolled in Medicaid receive regular health screenings, and when problems are diagnosed, treatment services are provided (includes speech language therapy services).  These services prevent and minimize disability by intervening early.  This early investment in children can save money by enabling children to maximize their development and educational attainment, minimizing the need to receive life-long services.  In 2008, roughly 142,280 children (birth – 20) in Mississippi received at least one EPSDT screening.  This number is less than half of the children who were eligible to receive this service.  In the same year, more than 69,615 children were referred for corrective treatment.  (Source: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Annual EPSDT Participation Report: Mississippi FY 2008).

The federal Medicaid program reimburses the state Medicaid program for a share of the services provided under the state’s Medicaid plan.  The federal share ranges from a low of 50 % to a high of 83%.  This percentage is known as the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP).  Representative Dirk Dedeaux, who chairs the Medicaid committee, says because the federal government matches state Medicaid funding 3 to 1, “If you cut 5 percent out of that pool of the Medicaid money, then that translates exponentially. For every 16 cents of state money that you cut, you’re really cutting a dollar. That 5 percent becomes like, 6 times as much when you cut it out of that part of the budget.”

State lawmakers will ultimately decide where the additional budget cuts will go as this year’s legislative session gets underway.  To ensure that services to children remain a priority in Mississippi, we encourage you to contact your legislators.

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