AUGUSTA — Gov. Janet Mills said Thursday she is considering the possible economic impacts of COVID-19 as she prepares changes to a $127 million supplemental state budget package she proposed last month.

A recent forecast predicted a $40 million increase in state revenue for 2020, but it did not analyze the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the time of the forecast, a strong economy had left the state’s $8 billion, two-year budget well in the black. But the virus outbreak, which has sent stock markets plummeting, prompted travel restrictions and led colleges and universities to send students home, could have a dramatic impact on the state economy in the long term, especially heading into its valuable summer tourism season.

Mills presented the supplemental budget earlier this year and was expected to issue proposed changes this week based on the new forecast issued by the state’s Revenue Forecasting Committee on Feb. 28.

During a news briefing Thursday about the state’s response to the coronavirus, Mills said she had met with both Republican and Democratic leaders on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee but had yet to finalize changes to the state’s budget.

“We are talking about a variety of scenarios and we are still working out what might be immediate needs and what we should ask for, for health care related budgetary expenses,” Mills said.

Republican Senate leaders have called on Mills and Democrats to support their proposal to raid up to $7 million from a Medicaid expansion fund to boost the state’s reimbursement rates for nursing home and other long-term care facility workers. Republicans specifically said Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, has refused to bring a bill forward to move the funds.

Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, assistant Senate minority leader, said Jackson had failed to provide the funding in the state’s current two-year budget.

“Now, he has refused to allow a bill that would use unspent, idle money to address this funding crisis,” Timberlake said in a prepared statement. “His refusal to act will lead to the loss of care for more of Maine’s seniors.”

But Jackson said funding to help nursing homes is likely to be included in the supplemental budget and accused Republicans of fear-mongering about the virus and using nursing home residents as political pawns.

“It’s just constantly lies and (expletive) you know,” Jackson said. “Here’s the real reality, the honest-to-God truth, they are not going to vote for a budget that has these things in here that are going to these facilities, home health care and all that. They want to have something else that they can say they voted on instead of the actual budget. They don’t want to do the hard work of actually funding these programs they say they are in support of.”

Jackie Farwell, a spokeswoman for DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, said the department wants to maintain a reserve of about one percent of the total costs of Medicaid in Maine, between $20 million and $40 million a year.

“This prudent approach helps ensure that the state is prepared for and can handle unexpected costs, such as new and expensive drug treatments and even disease outbreaks like the coronavirus,” Farwell wrote to the Press Herald in an email message. “The Republicans’ proposal to raid this reserve would jeopardize the state’s ability to meet new, unexpected challenges and could result in a loss of care for people who use MaineCare-related services. Additionally, the department believes that one-time reserve monies should not be used to fund ongoing expenses.”

Farwell said the state is also examining a proposal by the Trump administration that would reduce the amount of federal funds for Medicaid, which would cost Maine as much as $203 million to $266 million a year.

If Medicaid funds are used to increase reimbursement rates to nursing homes, lawmakers would have to find a way to account for that funding in the state’s next 2-year budget or face a potential revenue shortfall.

“Nursing homes and older Mainers should not be pawns in a political game,” Mills press pecretary Lindsay Crete said. “The governor knows that both Democrats and Republicans care about this issue and that many have personal experiences with it. The governor, too, has struggled to find services for her own parents and for a husband with multiple medical issues at the end of his life, so she recognizes and understands the value of nursing homes and she wants to strengthen their ability to provide care and help stabilize their finances.”

 

 

 

 

 

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