Spending measure faces delays as House, Senate versions differ

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2016/03/24/spending-measure-faces-delays-as-house-senate-versions-differ/

BOSTON – In back-to-back sessions, the House and Senate this week passed $168 million spending bills and leaders warned state spending accounts will soon run out of money if a new spending law is not agreed upon soon. But while the bills are similar, the Senate on Thursday passed a slightly different version of the House bill.

In addition to substituting a new bill (S 2193), the Senate added through floor amendments new sections dealing with federal funding of home care, the state’s health safety net program, and student enrollment counts that affect free and reduced school lunch programs.

Sen. Jason Lewis said the health safety net amendment will delay until at least the end of June eligibility changes that the Winchester Democrat said could negatively affect claims reimbursements for hospitals that serve low-income individuals.

According to Mass Home Care, a Sen. Barbara L’Italien amendment instructs the Baker administration to submit an application to the federal government for an amendment to its Medicaid program that will expand federal matching funds for seniors who are getting home care but have not drawn federal matching funds before because they are not considered nursing home eligible.

Mass Home Care believes as much as $19 million in new federal revenues could be obtained. The House bill also included a home care provision, but not the mandate that the Baker administration submit an application.

Both bills (H 4116/S 2193) include $10.9 million to fund University of Massachusetts collective bargaining agreements, with Sen. Karen Spilka saying the university has agreed in connection with the funding to deliver $7 million in additional student scholarships.

Agreeing to a single spending bill will be a likely focus of legislative leaders over the next week since lawmakers said accounts could dry up in early April.

House members refrained from amending the version of the bill that cleared that branch on Wednesday after Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey said leadership would “resist” any changes out of a desire to quickly get the bill to the governor’s desk.

State tax collections are trailing budget benchmarks by $123 million and the Baker administration is counting on a surge in tax collections to cover state spending in the remaining three months of fiscal 2016. Administration officials and legislative leaders are confident the revenues will materialize.

Written by Michael Norton