JFAC supplementals 2-12-21

The Idaho Legislature's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee considers supplemental appropriations on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.

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Idaho has been awarded nearly $58 million in child care funding from the COVID-19 relief act signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 27, but today, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted 16-2 to authorize spending of just $24 million of that. The money is to provide child care for essential personnel during the pandemic; improve both access to and quality of child care in Idaho; and to ensure Idaho’s child care system continues to function through and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is for COVID relief dollars,” legislative budget analyst Jill Randolph told the joint committee. “The state will receive $57.8 million to spend by October (of) calendar year 2023. The Department (of Health & Welfare) has indicated it will spend $24 million in the current fiscal year. So that’s the amount of the supplemental before you.”

Supplemental appropriations allocate funds within the current budget year. “The rest will be added as a line item in the fiscal year 2022 budget,” Randolph told the committee.

Some House members have been raising concerns about authorizing supplemental appropriations for more than the amount to be spent just within the fiscal year, with reappropriation or carry-over authority to spend the remainder after July 1, as has commonly been done in the past.

There was no discussion, and Sen. Peter Riggs, R-Coeur d’Alene, moved to approve the $24 million supplemental appropriation. Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, seconded the motion, and it passed 16-2. You can read my full story here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or pick up Saturday's print edition of the Idaho Press.

Two JFAC members, Reps. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, and Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, voted against the funds; both refused to say why they opposed authorizing the spending.

After the meeting, both directed a reporter to email questions to them; despite immediately receiving that email, neither has yet responded.

Nate had railed against Medicaid expansion earlier in the meeting as the joint budget committee voted on several supplemental appropriations relating to Medicaid; the COVID-19 aid for child care doesn’t affect Medicaid. It goes to the Division of Welfare at the state Department of Health & Welfare.

The funds are part of nearly $900 million in federal coronavirus aid that Idaho was awarded under the Dec. 27 federal legislation, but that lawmakers have been slow to approve during the current legislative session. Today, JFAC approved three more chunks of the funds, including just under half of the child care funding; along with two supplemental appropriations that apply a pandemic-related higher federal funding match rate to Idaho’s Medicaid program.

Troy said, “I just wanted to say something about these budgets. Medicaid expansion was not policy that the majority of the Legislature wanted, and our Idaho citizens determined for us that we would do this expansion. I have never believed that Medicaid accomplishes what we want, which is the health of our citizens. And so for many of us, this is a bitter pill to swallow, because it’s not something that I truly believe in, as getting what we want. But our citizens asked us to do this. And so these are the responsibilities that we have as legislators to our citizens, to make sure that we are responsible in our budgeting and responsible in honoring the request of our Idaho citizens.”

“And so while I struggle every time to vote yes on these budgets and these supplementals,” Troy said, “I believe that’s my responsibility as a representative of my district, which passed this expansion at probably one of the highest rates in the state. I just felt that that needs to be said. I appreciate those of you who have different viewpoints about it, but I do think it’s our responsibility as legislators to make sure that we fund what our citizens asked us to fund.”

Nate responded, “I just want to say, in voting for these, it’s very difficult. It’s very difficult in light of the fact that there was a referendum, a ballot initiative on this. My district did not support it. And I don’t think all of Idaho supported the idea of supporting a Medicaid expansion to the tune of 57.8% higher than was projected at the time. If Idahoans had the number and the accurate scope of the issue at hand, I have serious doubts whether the expansion would have happened.”

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said, “I object to these comments.”

JFAC Co-Chair Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, said, “We could probably go on for who knows how long. … I’m sure we’ll have additional time when they hit the floor. I know these are challenging budgets, but we do need to move forward. We’ve made commitments. Commitments are outstanding, and they need to be satisfied, and that’s what this committee does. … These are real numbers, real dollars, and they need to be taken care of properly and bills paid.”

JFAC approved six supplemental appropriations for Medicaid today. The first, for $8.5 million, simply makes up the hole left in the budget last year that Gov. Brad Little had left in anticipation of new legislation passing to tap counties for a share of Medicaid expansion costs. No such legislation ever passed, so the supplemental appropriation is needed to keep the budget “whole,” Randolph explained. That passed, 16-1, with just Nate dissenting; Giddings was absent.

The second supplemental appropriation recognized the receipt of $148.7 million in federal funds for Idaho’s traditional Medicaid program as a result of the pandemic, and the resulting reduction of $56 million in state general funds in that budget. It passed 16-2 with Nate and Giddings dissenting. The third was a net-zero transfer between programs within Medicaid to reflect the increased federal funding; it passed by the same vote.

The fourth was for program growth within Medicaid expansion, which has seen higher costs than originally anticipated, largely because of a combination of pent-up demand for services among previously uninsured patients and COVID-19 impacts. That resulted in an increase in the original 2018 per-member, per-month cost estimate from $370 to $548, a 57.8% increase. This supplemental appropriation transferred funds within Medicaid to cover the anticipated higher cost this year, including $22.8 million in state general funds, and $205.1 million in federal funds, for a total of $227.9 million. It also passed 16-2.

The final supplemental appropriation simply recognized higher than expected receipt authority for funds Medicaid is receiving from drug rebates, cost settlements and third-party collections, including private insurance. That $100.7 million in additional dedicated funds, $88 million of it for Medicaid expansion, means negative supplemental appropriations within Medicaid for both state general funds, at $11.1 million less, and federal funds, at $75 million less, reducing the amount of both state and federal funds needing to be spent for the program.

Again, the supplemental appropriation bill was approved on a 16-2 vote with just Nate and Giddings dissenting.

Today’s action included authorizing spending of roughly $163.4 million of the nearly $900 million in COVID-19 aid awaiting lawmakers’ approval. When that’s combined with JFAC actions earlier in the week, there’s still $523.1 million awaiting appropriation. That includes funds for public health, child welfare, schools and higher education.

The supplemental appropriation bills still need passage in both houses and the governor’s signature to become law, but budget bills rarely change once they’re set by the 20-member joint committee.

Supplemental appropriations are the form the governor has put the COVID-19 aid money into to ask lawmakers to approve it, now that they’re in session. Before lawmakers had convened, Little received and allocated $1.25 billion from the earlier CARES Act in COVID-19 relief funds, appointing a Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee of lawmakers, local and state officials and others to help guide the decisions.

Lawmakers who have been calling for trimming the governor’s emergency powers have said they should have more say in such spending decisions.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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