They want a six-month extension on the original federal stimulus package so they can continue to provide benefits for a growing pool of Medicaid recipients, and so they can keep the program running. That’s important, they say, because they’re still trying to figure out what to do next.
It’s important to point out that this is an example of the stimulus doing what it is supposed to do — help state and local governments carry out essential functions. If that weren’t the case, state and local governments would not be seeking an extension.
Likewise, Alabama’s Legislature wouldn’t be considering a delay on voting for next year’s state budgets if it weren’t for the stimulus’s ability to keep state services on track. Goat Hill lawmakers are well aware of how important stimulus money has been for Alabama state government.
In essence, the problem is two-pronged: (a.) getting through the remainder of this fiscal year (hence, the extension request), and (b.) hoping Congress OKs legislation that will provide more money for next year, perhaps as much as $542 million.
In their letter to Congress, Riley and the other governors emphasized that stimulus money has saved jobs and protected services, especially health care, in most states — again, that’s what the stimulus was designed to do.
That runs up the federal deficit, of course, which already was high thanks to the Bush administration. But it leaves a choice: Would it be better for the recession to continue, for unemployment rolls to rise, and for those with health problems to suffer? Or would it be better to use federal money to keep the system functioning while seeking ways to pay off the debt — such as rescinding Bush tax cuts that contributed to this financial hole before the housing bubble burst.
That said, don’t forget the vital element in this request — its humanity.
Since 2007, when the economic downturn began, approximately 100,000 people have been added to the Alabama Medicaid program roll. In most cases, these are Alabamians who have lost their jobs and have no place else to turn.
Would it be better to let them fend for themselves?
This situation is not their fault. Alabama would be a cold, hard-hearted place (un-Christian, some would say) if it did such a thing.
Times are hard, but they would be much harder if the federal stimulus were not there. Before the stimulus, Alabama paid 32 percent of its Medicaid bill. Washington paid 68 percent. If that ratio had remained in place, Alabama could not have afforded the cost. Worthwhile participation in the program would have been severely affected.
The stimulus took up the slack; today, Alabama pays 22.4 percent of its Medicaid bill, and the federal government pays 77.6 percent. This is the split the governors want extended through June 2011.
It is a reasonable, humane request.
Congress should make it happen.