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Democrats Look for Vehicles for Medicaid, TANF Funding

After two months of wrangling, Congress passed an extension of unemployment benefits earlier this month. But a number of other of vital safety-net programs remain in limbo. Democrats are looking for ways to pass those measures — which aide low-income Americans with job training, access to health care and subsidized work programs — through a deficit-wary Senate, but the odds remain very slim of any movement before the recess.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is trying to hand over $24 billion in much needed Medicaid funding for states, known as FMAP. A Senate Finance Committee aide writes, “Chairman Baucus continues to work to build the support of 60 Members needed to pass the FMAP funding and is in close contact with [Sen. Harry] Reid on a potential vehicle to extend that policy.”

And House members including Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) are working to try to re-up funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund. (Senate Republicans blocked a reauthorization of TANF funding in March.) Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Speaker of the House, has continued to pressure the Senate to pass House bills authorizing and offsetting the spending.

Speaking earlier this week, Pelosi said that these initiatives have been “paid for, but they have not passed yet: enhanced FMAP funding — paid for; a comprehensive jobs bill — paid for; assistance for teachers – paid for.” She argued:

America’s state legislators and governors have been clear that one of the best ways Congress can help the budgetary crises our states are facing is enhanced FMAP funding. That’s because it is fungible and flexible. Enhanced FMAP has been both an opportunity and a challenge for you. When Congress included $87 billion in enhanced FMAP investments in the Recovery Act, it helped keep cops on the beat and teachers in the classroom and helped address the health needs of your constituents. Many of your state budgets have been predicated on continued enhanced FMAP funding.

As you all know, the House passed an extension of FMAP last December in our comprehensive jobs bill. And now, FMAP is stalled in the Senate, even though it has a majority of support in that body. In order to pass, it must have bipartisan support. You are the most eloquent and persuasive voices on this subject; you know best why this is necessary. I urge you to tell Republicans in the Senate about the real cost to your communities of their opposition — cuts to hospitals, nursing homes, and public safety, elimination of domestic violence and homelessness initiatives, and slashed budgets for mental health and child welfare services.

She also pushed for edujobs funding, passed by the House and dropped from the Senate supplemental war-funding bill.

The wrangling comes as local government say they might slash as many as 500,000 workers in the next year if Congress does not provide Medicaid, TANF and education-jobs funding for states. A report released yesterday by the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties and United States Conference of Mayors says that local governments might slash up to 9 percent of their workforces due to congress reneging on promised funds.

“Local governments across the country are now facing the combined impact of decreased tax revenues, a falloff in state and federal aid and increased demand for social services,” the report says. “In this current climate of fiscal distress, local governments are forced to eliminate both jobs and services.”

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