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State Lawmakers Work To Fill Gaps In Health Department Budget

State budgets.
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Lawmakers overseeing the state budget, today started working to fill in a financial gap in state health department programs for senior citizens and people with disabilities. But, it’s unclear where some of that money is coming from.

During the final day of debate on the state’s budget in a House committee, lawmakers agreed to rely on more federal funds to pay for senior and long-term care, rather than fund the services with state money.

But, the state can only access the federal money if it spends some of it own; about $11 million, and it’s unclear where that is going to come from.

The Director of Montana’s Department of Health and Human Services, Sheila Hogan, says underfunding senior and long-term care programs could hurt vulnerable populations in Montana:

"While we appreciate the efforts today we are left with a situation where we can’t cash the check they’ve written. We cannot access the federal money they have allocated without the state money to trigger it."

Republicans, including Jon Knokey from Bozeman, blamed Governor Steve Bullock’s spending priorities for failing to provide enough state money to unlock the federal health care funds.

In January, Bullock announced that $10 million the state just received from federal Medicaid reimbursements would diverted from health programs to fund suspended road construction projects.

"Governor returns the money taken from Medicaid and we match it with federal funds, and the senior and long term care budget is balanced,” said Rep. Knokey.

But, Dan Villa, the Governor’s Budget Director, says the Medicaid reimbursements the state received were only a one time payment, and shouldn’t be used to fund ongoing services in DPHHS.

He also says it’s the legislature’s job to appropriate money for state agencies.

"Only the legislature can appropriate dollars and no one brought an amendment this morning to fund that $10 million, save the Democrats.”

When the budget committee finished its work on the state budget this afternoon there was still around a $30 million gap in the funding to pay for senior and long-term care.

The budget committee’s chair Nancy Ballance, a Hamilton Republican, says that gap will be filled in if the governor frees up the money he pledged for highway infrastructure.

The state budget can still change. It will go for a vote on the House floor next week, and then will head to the Senate.

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