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Begich Votes to Prevent Medicaid Shortfall & Firing of Teachers

Deficit neutral legislation delivers on Gov. Parnell's request

Refusing to ignore the financial realities facing Alaska's neediest families and the State of Alaska, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich voted today to extend increased levels of Medicaid funding and provide Alaska school districts with funds to retain teachers.

"Without adding a dime to the deficit, this amendment provides Alaska with critical funding to protect basic health care coverage for the neediest families and frees state dollars for other important priorities," Sen. Begich said.

Passed by a margin of 61 to 39, the amendment will provide support to state Medicaid programs by extending and phasing out an increase in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP). The extension lasts six months. FMAP levels were raised 6.2 percent in 2009 to increase the federal government's share of Medicaid spending and aggressively confront state budget gaps. Today's vote continues the enhanced rate until June 30, 2011.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell and 46 other governors specifically requested the FMAP extension in a National Governors Association letter to House and Senate leaders in February. The legislation will save the State of Alaska an estimated $47 million in general funds.

The legislation is fully offset by closing foreign tax loopholes and reallocating funds from other programs.

"Every day I hear from economically disadvantaged Alaskans who are making difficult financial decisions affecting the health and wellbeing of their families," Begich said. "Extending these benefits provides our neediest families with needed medical care and a sense of security."

Additionally, the amendment addresses gaps in education funding by providing $23.5 million to Alaska school districts preventing the imminent layoff of educators.

"As the school year approaches, our teachers should be concerned with lesson plans and textbooks, not worrying about whether they have a job," Begich added. "This bill will prevent us from increasing class sizes by saving the jobs of an estimated 140,000 educators across the country."

The Department of Education will distribute $10 billion nationwide using formulas based on total population and school age population. The funds must be utilized for the preservation of jobs serving elementary and secondary education.

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