States are anxiously watching Congress wrangle over a series of measures they are counting on to help pay for health care, education and unemployment benefits for millions of their residents. But the federal government's well-documented financial problems — and the growing attention paid to them on the campaign trail — are threatening those measures. Critics say the government can't afford them.
Among the top priorities for many states right now is a six-month extension of stimulus funding for Medicaid, the joint state-federal health insurance program for the poor. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was on Capitol Hill on Tuesday (May 26) to lobby for extra funding, which he considers essential to balancing the state's upcoming budget, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports :
"If the state doesn't get the additional $850 million in Medicaid assistance, adoption of a 2010-11 budget will become even more difficult than it already is," the paper says. "Mr. Rendell wants to spend $29.1 billion for the year beginning July 1, which is considerably larger than the current state budget of $27.8 billion."
The Post-Gazette continues: "Mr. Rendell's new spending proposal is balanced by the inclusion of the so-called Federal Medical Assistance Percentages, or FMAP, money, so if Congress doesn't approve it, the state budget will be considerably out of balance. That would complicate budget talks with Republicans, who control the state Senate and who are demanding that Mr. Rendell trim his 2010-11 budget plan to $27.5 billion. These disagreements are leading some legislators to figure they'll be in Harrisburg all summer, as they were last year."
But Medicaid money isn't the only thing on states' wish list.
Millions of Americans nationwide could see their jobless benefits run out unless Congress approves an extension by June 1, as The Washington Post reports . That has ramped up pressure on lawmakers who want to do as much as possible to help their states' economic recoveries. At the same time, the Post says, "the ultimate fate of the package was unclear as Republicans stepped up efforts to paint it as irresponsible when the recession and its aftermath are driving the nation deeply into debt — a concern many Democrats share."
In a separate, front-page article , meanwhile, the Post reports on the complications surrounding an effort by Congress to deliver $23 billion in aid to states to help prevent what could be 100,000 teacher layoffs nationwide. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called the measure essential and said K-12 education faces an "emergency" if it doesn't pass. Fiscally stressed California, the paper reports, already is "shedding summer school, music and art classes, bus routes, days from the school year, and yet-uncounted thousands of teachers."
Like the measures on Medicaid and jobless benefits, however, the education aid package — which, at last word, was attached to a bill on Afghanistan war funding — is being billed by some members of Congress as another costly initiative the federal government can't afford.
"Giving states another $23 billion in federal education money simply throws more money into taxpayer-funded bailouts when we should be discussing why we aren't seeing the results we need from the billions in federal dollars that are already being spent," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner said, according to the Post .