By LISA CAPOBIANCO
State lawmakers passed an emergency budget amendment last Tuesday in an effort to fix the $220 million deficit this fiscal year.
The amendment, which passed the Senate on a 33-3 vote and the House of Representatives on a 127-16 vote, restores state aid to municipalities as well as hospital reimbursements. Bristol legislators supported the bipartisan plan.
In March, community hospitals throughout the state as well as Federal Qualified Health Centers, were told they would not be receiving any additional supplemental payments from the Department of Social Services this fiscal year due to the budget deficit. The Office of Policy and Management stated in a letter that DSS was told to hold on making any Medicaid and Medicare payments until the state identifies the steps needed to address this fiscal year’s budget deficit.
The potential impact on Bristol Hospital would have been a loss of $1.2 million per quarter or $4.8 million per fiscal year.
State Representative Whit Betts (R-Bristol, Plymouth, Terryville) said that although the budget amendment promises reimbursements for hospitals, the timeline for when that would happen is still uncertain.
“The question that remains is…when will the hospitals receive the payment?” said Betts. “That’s a concern to me because it may impact programs and funding for perhaps staff increases.”
Betts added the amendment agreed upon by legislators on both sides of aisle means good news for community hospitals overall.
“The good news is that the legislature clearly is in one mind, and this is a very important priority for us,” said Betts. “Our expectation is that the administration will be forthcoming with the payments in a timely manner. That would be very good news for community hospitals and the state economy.”
Under the emergency budget amendment, the House and Senate also agreed to reduce the funding losses for major programs like the DSS and the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, which were less than the cuts that Governor Dannel Malloy initially proposed.
“There really was a compromise achieved,” said Betts. “Not everybody got what they wanted, but enough was accomplished whereby the severe damage that had been proposed in the governor’s mitigation plan was dramatically avoided.”
“There were a couple of departments that we fought to keep funding,” added State Representative Cara Pavalock (R-Bristol).
“I supported the bipartisan agreement to balance the current year budget because the package restores the Governor’s devastating cut to Bristol Hospital, important to our local economy and the future of the hospital and their great employees,” said State Rep. Frank Nicastro (D-Bristol) in a written statement after the agreement.
Although the deficit-cutting plan passed last week addresses this fiscal year’s budget, lawmakers warned of the challenge they face for Fiscal Year 2017, which begins July 1. The state has a projected $900 million deficit for next fiscal year.
“It was nice to come together, [and] at least have some short-term relief, but it doesn’t address the long-term problem, which is unfortunate,” said Pavalock. “We didn’t want anyone to get cut, but at the same time, I think we came to an agreement, an agreement that will work over the next three months.”
“I hope this budget agreement represents an important first step for us to work together to take on the Fiscal Year 2017 budget that lies ahead,” said Nicastro.
In order to address next fiscal year’s deficit, Malloy announced last week a “substantial” number of state job losses. It is still uncertain how many state workers will receive layoff notices within the next few weeks.