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House Commerce Committee urges JFAC to fund Medicaid readiness, food stamp issuance reforms

House Commerce Committee urges JFAC to fund Medicaid readiness, food stamp issuance reforms

Dustin Hurst
February 15, 2012
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February 15, 2012

Committee chairs are preparing for meetings with the Joint Finance-Appropriation Committee Thursday and setting priorities for agency budgets in their own panels.

The House Commerce and Human Resources Committee voted Wednesday to urge budget setting lawmakers to spend money in 2012 and 2013 to prepare Idaho’s Medicaid system for integration with an online health exchange.

The panel also suggested the budget committee spend money in 2013 to reform food stamp issuance procedures and increase rates paid to Idaho’s foster care families.

Lawmakers are mulling spending nearly $4 million in 2012 state budget money on the system, an amount matched 9-to-1 in federal funds for a total cost of $35 million. Idaho’s Medicaid program needs to develop a real-time application and evaluation system which must be online 24 hours a day.

The House committee voted unanimously to spend the funds to develop the system.

Legislators are working on the Medicaid request knowing they could lose funding if they don’t approve the spending. Several public officials, including Gov. Butch Otter, have said that if Idaho doesn’t have its Medicaid system ready to integrate with an exchange, the federal government could sharply reduce the money it pays into the program.

That could represent a fiscal nightmare for the state if it happens. Idaho is spending $436 million on Medicaid this year, a number the federal government matches 3-to-1. The federal government’s share of the Medicaid program is more than $1.2 billion this year.

The committee is also pushing the budget committee to spend $1 million in state funds in 2013 on the Medicaid system, which will be complemented with another $9 million in federal funds if approved.

The panel’s second priority in 2013 is $220,000 in spending authority for a reform for how food stamps are delivered to recipients. Idaho grocers complained business is too hectic when food stamps are issued in the first five days of the month and they are losing sales as a result.

Food stamps were issued over many days just a few years ago, but lawmakers shortened the process to save money.

Finally, in its spending recommendation, the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee urged JFAC to increase the amount the state pays foster care families, who receive about $300 a month. The proposal would increase that amount to $350.

Committee chair Rep. Sharon Block, R-TwinFalls, will deliver the official report to JFAC Thursday. Her committee’s vote is non-binding, but may hold sway with budget writers.

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