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Originally published Friday, June 18, 2010 at 2:29 PM

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Guest columnist

Congress should approve additional Medicaid money for states

If Congress does not approve $24 billion in additional Medicaid money, the Washington Legislature will have to find a way to replace about $480 million in its budget. Guest columnists Remy Trupin and Rebecca Kavoussi argue the money is important for public health and education.

Special to The Times

THE debate in Washington, D.C., over providing additional emergency financial assistance to states is about more than money. It's really about values.

Do we want to help families struggling to stay afloat in a devastating national recession? Or do we want to turn them away — damaging the economy and threatening this fragile recovery in the process?

In a June 13 editorial ["State shouldn't bank on Medicaid money"], The Seattle Times editorial board argued that Congress should not approve a measure that would provide Washington with $480 million in additional money for Medicaid and other purposes. "The state ought to live without it," the editorial opined.

But it's not the amorphous "state" that's going to have to live without. The people struggling in this recession are those who are going to go without — possibly without health care, without the quality of education we all want for our children.

Without the nearly $500 million, there would have to be even more state budget cuts on top of those we've made. And those cuts have been deep.

Legislators were forced to rely on federal dollars this session as they grappled with a historic deficit at a time when more people are asking for help

First the state looked at cuts, passing a nearly all-cuts budget in 2009, and then following up with another $755 million in cuts this past session. In all, we've already cut $4 billion out of the budget this recession.

Those cuts have harmed our children's education by not reducing classroom sizes as much as voters demanded. We've allowed the list of people waiting to get on the state's Basic Health Plan to grow longer than the number of people actually receiving health coverage. And the cuts have meant thousands of lost jobs for teachers, nurses and other service providers.

We've already "lived without."

To avoid even deeper cuts this past session, legislators took a balanced approach. They made the additional $755 million in cuts, but also approved a nearly equal amount in mostly temporary revenue increases. And they sought the federal aid that's now before Congress.

Because they did, we did not have to eliminate health-care coverage for 16,000 lower-income children or do away with college financial aid for 12,300 students. We preserved preventive dental care for low-income adults and support for at-risk moms so their babies are born healthy. Community clinics did not have their funding cut at the same time that more uninsured are walking in the doors. Child-care assistance was not cut for lower-income families, allowing their parents to seek work.

Those are the kinds of things we would have to "live without" if Congress does not step up.

The nearly $500 million in federal funding is part of a bill to extend emergency unemployment benefits. Without the extension, more than 110,000 Washingtonians currently claiming emergency unemployment would lose more than half of their benefits.

Congress should continue emergency unemployment for those who need it, as well as maintain the expanded COBRA health-care benefits that help unemployed Washingtonians scrape by on unemployment. It should also approve the emergency Medicaid funds.

In the midst of this recession, we should be able to agree to band together and protect investments like education and health care. And that we should lend a hand to those who are looking for work.

Remy Trupin, left, is executive director of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, a nonprofit think tank that focuses on state fiscal issues. Rebecca Kavoussi is assistant vice president of government affairs at Community Health Network of Washington.

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