Spin Control

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 30, 2010, 11:20 A.M.

Gregoire, other govs repeat call for Medicaid money

OLYMPIA -- Chris Gregoire and other governors from around the country are in Washington, D.C., asking, cajoling, lobbying, pleading (pick one) with Congress to approve more money for Medicaid payments.

They held a joint press conference about 11 a.m. PDT, reiterating what they've already repeated, that the promised federal medical assistance percentages, or FMAP, need to be raised to the levels they were told to expect early this year. Without it, their budgets look even worse than they do right now.

In the case of Washington, the $480 million for FMAP equals about 6,400 state jobs, although Gregoire was careful not to threaten to axe that many workers at a date certain if Congress doesn't come through.

The prospect of Congress approving that money in the near future took a turn for the worse Tuesday night, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced a new version of a bill with some money to help those hit hard by the economy. It would extend unemployment insurance to workers who are losing that, and would extend a tax credit for home buyers. But it has no money for FMAP.

Gregoire said the unemployment benefits extension is more pressing, because people are being dropped from thr rolls right now: "That's one piece of the puzzle. We're here to get the other piece."

There is another proposal in the Senate, from Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., that would provide the extra FMAP money.

Gregoire said she believes time is running out on waiting for Congress to approve the money.

"Once they go on their August recess (around Aug. 9) I don't have any realistic expectation they're going to come back and do anything with the fall elections," she said.

If there's no decision by then, Gregoire said she'll call a special session to revise the state budget, but only if legislators can agree to meet for a day to handle the problem. "I am not going to call a Legislature in that's going to sit there and do nothing for 30 days."

Without such an agreement, she'll order across the board cuts. State agencies would need cuts of about 7.5 percent to come up with the full $480 million. She couldn't estimate how many layoffs that would mean, but said there aren't many options for cutting programs so without a special session, the bulk of the reductions would have to come through employee reductions.

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