AUGUSTA — The Legislature on Tuesday gave final approval to a proposal that plugs a $32 million budget hole in the fiscal year budget beginning July 1, while also providing critical services to hundreds of developmentally disabled Mainers who have long been on waiting lists.
The House voted 136-8 to approve a budget plan that Rep. Kathleen Chase, R-Wells, said was a “small bit” of funding that “does great things with critical funds.” Chase was referencing a $5 million care provision that will leverage additional federal funds to reduce or eliminate two waiting lists for approximately 300 disabled young and middle-age adults, including approximately 70 priority individuals who qualify for 24-hour home-based care and who would otherwise be institutionalized.
Also included are about 200 people who will receive community and employment support services to ensure that they remain engaged in public life.
The Senate voted 35-0 to approve the bill.
Gov. Paul LePage has already threatened to veto the bill because part of its funding mechanism delays Medicaid payments to the state’s hospitals. The margin of support shown in votes taken Tuesday would be more than enough to override the governor’s veto.
Mary Lou Dyer, director for the Maine Association for Community Service Providers, told the Portland Press Herald last week that the care provision will help some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens. Dyer said the funding will likely delay the need for intensive, and more expensive, 24-hour home-based care services for people who often suffer from intellectual disabilities and are frequently cared for by aging or elderly parents — some of whom have had to quit their jobs to take care of loved ones.
“This responsible bipartisan budget will improve the lives of the people we serve,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves of North Berwick in a statement. “It will help prevent struggling nursing homes from closing their doors to our most vulnerable low income seniors while also ensuring people with disabilities get desperately needed care.”
The waiting lists had been thrust into the debate over whether the state should expand Medicaid to more than 60,000 uninsured Mainers through the Affordable Care Act. The LePage administration had said that the state should not expand Medicaid when it cannot provide funding for already eligible people who are waiting for services.
Last week the governor submitted a bill to address the wait lists; however, the proposal has not yet had a public hearing and is unlikely to generate much support in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. That’s because the governor’s proposal would pay for the elimination of the wait lists with additional cuts to MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, and a more than $100 million reduction in state aid to municipalities. The latter provision is unlikely to be accepted by Republicans, who have previously rejected the governor’s plan to cut more than $200 million in municipal revenue sharing.
Lawmakers last year rejected that and other provisions in the governor’s budget proposal and then overrode his veto of the budget enacted by the Legislature. That budget included $10.4 million to fund services to residents on the waiting lists, although hundreds of individuals still remained without services.
Funding for the budget bill is derived through a variety of savings initiatives, including $20 million by extending some Medicaid reimbursement payments to Maine’s hospitals into the next fiscal year, $3 million in savings from payment audits of Medicaid providers and $3.5 million in unspent funds through the Finance Authority of Maine, the House Opportunity Maine and Dirigo Health.
Also funding the bill are savings within the state’s Medicaid program achieved this year when thousands of adults with children were dropped from the program by the previous Legislature.
Other components of the overall budget deal include $5 million in reimbursement payments for Maine’s nursing homes. In addition, several education programs will also receive funding, including $650,000 for the Bridge Year program, $300,000 in funding for Jobs for Maine’s Graduates and $750,000 for Head Start. The budget also gives $750,000 for homestead reimbursements.
Democrats hailed the budget passage as a significant achievement for the Legislature, which this year has drafted and passed two bipartisan supplemental budget plans without budget proposals submitted by LePage. The governor declined to participate in the budget process because the Legislature rejected his two-year budget plan last year.
The proposal now goes to LePage, who has 10 days to either veto the bill, sign it or allow it to go into effect without his signature.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @stevemistler