County May Receive $1.75 Million Medicare Help; Schools Will Get Aid, Too

Oswego County and the counties of New York State got some help Wednesday paying for rising Medicaid costs. The U.S. Senate approved a $26 billion plan, most of which will pour money into a Medicare fund.

The office of Senator Chuck Schumer estimates Oswego County government will receive $1.75 million in relief in the fund, called F-MAP.

The House of Representatives will hold a special session Tuesday, at which time the bill is expected to be passed. President Obama has signaled that he will sign the bill into law quickly.

“The money is as good as being there,” Schumer said.

The Medicaid money will go directly from Washington to the counties, Schumer said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, moments after the Senate approved the bill. “Our local officials always tell us if we send the money to Albany, they never see it, they see it late, or Albany takes a cut,” he said.

The measure is a temporary fix — it covers the next six months only. It’s not intended to be permanent, Schumer said. “When revenues are down you have three choices. One is layoffs, one is raising taxes — those are rotten choices, particularly when it’s teachers or law enforcement or whatever, and the third is to find a traditional revenue source, even if it’s temporary, and that’s what we’ve done here. It’s not going to solve the problem but hopefully the economy will get better and the’ll be more revenues and things will get better,” he said.

“You have heard us,” said Joanie Mahoney, Onondaga County Executive and one of three county executives who joined Schumer on the conference call. “It is relief that is absolutely necessary to limit the number of layoffs we’re going to have in Onondaga County.”

Schumer said the bill actually reduces the federal deficit by a small amount because it cuts more than the $26 billion of the bill. It is paid for by cuts in other programs, notably the food stamp program, and by closing some business tax loopholes, including one that let American companies set up offshore subsidiaries in countries without corporate taxes in order to stop paying U.S. corporate taxes.

The bill may also provide some relief for New York’s school districts. $600 million of the $2.2 billion coming to New York is targeted for schools to be able to rehire teachers they’ve laid off in the wake of the state’s billion dollar education aid cut.

The money is not guaranteed, however. Because school districts have already received voter approval for their budgets, any money they would receive now could only be used to lower the tax levy; it could not be used to increase spending on personnel or programs.

The state Education Department has been asked to review the issue.

Schools will receive their share of the money based on the current education aid formula.  Upstate and rural schools have complained for years that the formula shortchanges them.

This isn’t a complete win for the state.  Governor David Paterson insisted the state Legislature draw up contingency plans in case the federal government cut all of the state’s $1 billion F-MAP allocation.

The plan passed in the Senate amounts to a cut of about $280 million, meaning there will be cutbacks elsewhere in state spending, which could include education spending.