KHI News Service

U.S. Senate advances extended unemployment benefits but without Medicaid boost for states

Kansas still faces possible $131 million budget hole

By KHI NEWS SERVICE | July 21, 2010

The U.S. Senate today advanced a bill that would extend unemployment benefits and homebuyer tax credits. But the measure did not include the additional Medicaid dollars sought by Kansas and about 30 other states that need the money to keep their budgets balanced.

The vote to advance H.R. 4213 came minutes after West Virginia's new senator, Carte Goodwin, was seated to replace the late Robert Byrd.

The measure previously was stalled because Democrats couldn't muster the needed votes to debate the bill without threat of a Republican filibuster.

Earlier versions of the bill included the extra Medicaid assistance for states but that and other major provisions were stripped out as Democratic leaders bargained for support. Most Republicans, and at least one Democrat, fought the bill saying it would add too much to the federal deficit.

The extra Medicaid dollars are considered critical for Kansas and other states that have already counted them in their budgets.

Kansas state lawmakers earlier this year approved a spending plan for the fiscal year that began July 1 assuming Congress would approve the six-month extension of enhanced federal support for Medicaid that was initially approved last year with passage of the federal economic stimulus.

Historically, the federal government has picked up about 60 percent of the costs of Medicaid, a program that provides health coverage for the nation's poorest. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act temporarily boosted the federal share to about 70 percent, leaving the rest to states.

About $131 million in additional Medicaid dollars would come to Kansas, if Congress approved the so-called "FMAP extension."

Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, has been among the more outspoken state executives urging Congress to act.

But both Kansas senators, Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, have said they won't vote for the additional aid unless it is offset by cuts in other federal spending.

Brownback, who is leaving the Senate and running for governor, is considered the front-runner to succeed Parkinson. If the Medicaid extension doesn't come through and he is elected, he likely would face the chore of dealing with the gap left in the state budget.

Parkinson has said that without the money thousands of Kansas teachers could lose their jobs.

The additional Medicaid dollars have been approved by both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House in the past several months but have yet to be approved by both chambers in the same bill.