Despite a major setback in the United States Senate, Jewish leaders are hoping to keep alive a measure that would increase federal funding benefitting the ill and the elderly.
Supporters of the Federal Medicaid Adjustment Percentage this month failed to garner enough votes to extend the program past Dec. 31, 2010.
The program, which boosts federal reimbursement rates to states by 15 percent, will die if not extended.
Those running a range of Jewish-affiliated services, including family service agencies, say many of their low-income clients rely on the public assistance for health care.
“There will be major consequences in the states come Jan. 1 when this expires,” said Jonathan Westin, assistant director of legislative affairs at Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington, DC, office.
Both of New Jersey’s Democratic senators, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, were among the 56 lawmakers to vote in favor of an extension June 17. However, 60 votes are needed to end debate on the issue.
Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “promised to remain steadfast on moving forward on reintroducing the bill,” Westin said its passage is problematic.
“But this is not a dead issue,” he insisted. “It is a matter of when there is the political forethought to pass it. We are going to stay focused on this.”
Although his agency does not receive any Medicaid funds, Reuben Rotman, executive director of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, estimates that 9 percent of his clients do.
With fewer federal dollars, he predicted, there will be more cuts in Medicaid-related hospitals, nursing homes, adult day care, and mental health services.
“When we [refer clients] to an adult day care program and say, ‘This one takes Medicaid,’” Rotman added, “Well, it may not anymore.”
Jacob Toporek, executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, said the extension is important to New Jersey.
The program was part of the stimulus package Congress passed in February 2009. After its enactment, the U.S. government began reimbursing states up to 65 percent of their Medicaid grants — not just the 50 percent it had paid in earlier years.
“If the extra 15 percent is lost in the first six months of the next fiscal year, there may be another hole in the state budget,” said Toporek. “There is an interest on everyone’s part to make sure the feds are paying in 65 percent as opposed to 50 percent.”
Despite heavy Republican opposition in Congress, Toporek said he is hoping state legislators in both parties will back a six-month extension of the higher rate. He said it is “in the interest of smart fiscal management.”
He noted that Republican Gov. Chris Christie was one of 46 governors to sign a Feb. 22 letter to congressional leaders urging the higher rates be continued.
Toporek will meet later this week with the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, a coalition of neighborhood organizations, labor unions, businesses, and faith-based organizations. In the meeting, he said, “we’ll be talking about a strategy of how we move forward in trying to make sure Congress and the governor’s office are aware of what might happen if the extension is allowed to expire. There should be a united effort.”
Westin called Toporek’s efforts “very important.”
“We need the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures to be very active on this,” he told NJ Jewish News. “This is one of the most cost-effective ways of promoting growth as the economy moves toward a recovery.”