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Hawaii News

Effect of lost funding on Quest unknown

It is too early to say how Congress’ failure to pass an unemployment benefits bill could affect the state’s Medicaid program, which was expected to receive an $86 million boost from the legislation, lawmakers and state officials said.

The rejected bill would have provided $16 billion in new aid to states, including a six-month extension of federal funding for weekly unemployment benefits and the Federal Medicaid Assistance Program for states.

State Budget Director Georgina Kawamura said the state budget balances without the $86 million, but also noted that the state’s Medicaid program, known as Quest, is one of the government’s largest expenses each year.

Those costs could grow if the economy worsens, increasing the need to provide health insurance for low-income residents.

"It will still depend on enrollment, obviously, and the expenses as they move forward with the Medicaid program," Kawamura said.

Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho), the House finance chairman, said while the $86 million was anticipated, he would take a wait-and-see approach toward assessing the impact of the loss.

"When we (see) the actual tax collections, the actual expenditures … then we’ll have a clear idea of where this $86 million folds in," Oshiro said.

The bill was still before Congress during the 2010 legislative session, when the state identified an $86 million shortfall predicted for the Quest program by the end of the 2011 fiscal year.

But the bill stalled Thursday when Senate Democrats fell three votes short of ending a filibuster by Republicans, who contended the bill would add to the nation’s burgeoning debt.

Although the state sought the federal assistance, because the extension of the program was still pending at the time, it was not included in the state budget, Kawamura said.

"The budget just includes more general fund contributions, and that FMAP (federal money), if approved, would’ve given more federal dollars and reduced the contribution from general funds," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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