A few months ago, governors around the United States watched in dismay as the stock market tanked, and then tanked some more. Bankruptcies, massive layoffs and general unease about what’s going to happen next caused many of us to keep our wallets closed. As a result, state and local governments who depend on sales taxes to make budget faced a crisis of gargantuan magnitude. Many governors prepared long lists of state worker layoffs, and prepared what can only be called draconian budgets to deal with the crisis.
But then the Obama administration, at the urging of economists, successfully pushed through the stim package or, as it’s officially known, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Many governors exhaled deeply for the first time in months, and before the package even passed they quietly prepared a second budget based on the stimulus bill. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the new administration saved Medicaid as we know it, and it’s an understatement that countless jobs and programs were saved. It’s hard to believe, but the economic picture would have been exponentially worse, had those frayed shoe-string state budgets been passed.
Now that things have calmed down a little bit, we’re getting a clearer picture of what the Recovery effort looks like on ground level.
Let’s start with Medicaid. States have already cashed their first stim checks, and by so doing agreed that from here on out they will pay their fed-funded bills (such as Medicaid) within 30 days. This will help our own disability-services infrastructure, as personal assistance providers and wheelchair vendors alike will finally be paid for their services on time ... at least where Medicaid’s concerned. Medicare funds, which come directly from the Feds, are also flowing faster, but aren’t as easy to track right now. As the health care reform becomes more real, it’ll be easier to follow changes in Medicare.
One unresolved state budget problem is there’s no good way to shore up programs that do not receive federal funding, but instead are completely funded with state monies. These programs are still going to be cut – and it’s going to hurt – until spending picks up and sales taxes start to be collected again. These are often quality of life programs, such as home making services, drop-in centers and most likely state-funded centers for independent living.
Speaking of independent living, the stim package has a significant chunk of change for IL. If a state’s IL community is well-organized, and if the ILCs can think beyond shoring up their existing budgets, they’ll get a windfall. It will be interesting to see how many of our ILCs are capable of original thinking and creating innovative short-term projects. One cool idea might be for an ILC or SILC to give out grants to local mom-and-pop businesses and non-profits to increase accessibility. This would, well, increase accessibility, of course. Also, it would get money into the pockets of contractors, electricians, etc., and create collaborations a community can build on for years to come. Projects that spread money around have the best chance of being funded.
Or maybe ILCs will find ways to “go green” whatever the heck that means. Buy all new energy-efficient computers, maybe. Stuff like that. These projects also will be prioritized.
Also, good news – look for more curb cuts on state roads and streets. These types of repairs are considered “shovel ready,” and are included in with bridge and highway repairs. In my own state, Pennsylvania, construction’s already begun.
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