Human Services reports increasing demand for programs
Published: August 10, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - While the demand for its services grows, the V.I. Human Services Department's Fiscal Year 2014 budget request reflects an attempt to hold spending steady, according to testimony given by Commissioner Christopher Finch before the Senate's Finance Committee on Thursday.
A requested General Fund appropriation of $64,989,995 represents a 13.3 percent increase from the FY 2013 appropriation, but the increase primarily is attributable to new local matching requirements tied to the expansion of the Medicaid program in the Virgin Islands, according to a Post-Audit analysis.
The proposed General Fund appropriation also represents a decrease from 2009 levels of about 14 percent, according to Finch, who told senators that the demand for Human Services' programs has never been higher as it copes with the declining availability of local and federal money.
"As many departments have, we too have struggled with local budget cuts and the federal sequestration cuts. These have caused continued staff and equipment shortages, service reductions and program closings as we have had to make the hard decisions about where we can provide the most public value with our limited resources," Finch said. "We wish we had more to work with, and we know you wish you had more to give."
Specifically, the department has seen increases in enrollments in the SNAP program, or nutrition assistance for low-income citizens, which now are at a record high of 32,000 participants.
It also faces a severe bed shortage in elderly care facilities, with 700 additional beds needed and only 200 beds available, according to Finch.
Typically drawn from the department's Miscellaneous Fund appropriations, money for the Medicaid Assistance Program has been transferred to the General Fund side of the department's budget. A total of $6 million in FY 2014 will be needed to support eligibility expansion for Medicaid, which was an option chosen by the Health Care Reform Task Force over creating a health insurance exchange. The Affordable Care Act, to be implemented in 2014, presented the choice between the two options.
Addressing the cost-benefit analysis behind the decision, Finch said: "Our ability to expand Medicaid is important to the entire health care financing of the territory. As we move people from uncompensated care to Medicaid, we move their health care from being paid 100 percent by the V.I. government to the federal government picking up 55 percent of the costs. This helps the hospitals, the clinics and everyone."
Matching requirements for federal funds will account for almost $27 million, or about 40 percent, of the department's General Fund appropriation. The money goes toward programs and residential care facilities that support the territory's children and the elderly, according to Finch's testimony.
The department's proposed budget also contains another $12,187,930 from local funds, including the Miscellaneous Fund, the V.I. Lottery, the Crisis Intervention Fund and the Home for the Aged Revolving Fund.
The department's overall FY 2014 operating budget will be $112.2 million, with an anticipated $69,079,194 coming from the federal government. Of that federal funding, $57 million will be distributed as SNAP program benefits.
Human Services will support 866 staff positions in FY 2014, down from a peak of 1,020 in the beginning of FY 2009. The department has a total of 21 vacancies supported by the FY 2014 budget after 66 staff members retired or resigned in the current year and another 28 new hires were affected, according to Finch.
Major accomplishments for FY 2013 include renewing a federal grant for the Head Start program to operate for another five years. The grant renewal comes at the same time that the program lost about $400,000 to sequestration cuts, which forced coordinators to reduce staff in lieu of closing classrooms. There are 700 children on the Head Start waiting list, but the program currently serves 894 low-income 3- to 4-year-olds, Finch testified.
Also, on Aug. 1, the department's data interconnection with the state of Virginia, called the Medicaid Management Information System went live, Finch said. The purpose of the database is to reduce fraud and better train staff.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.