Senate Votes For Schools, Health Care

WASHINGTON, August 4 – In a crucial showdown vote, the U.S. Senate today advanced a bill to preserve the jobs of teachers and extend emergency Medicaid payments to states. In Vermont, the measure includes $19 million for teachers and $30 million to $40 million for health care.

Winning approval of the relief funds for Vermont has been a high priority of Vermont’s congressional delegation and the state of Vermont.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said, “During the economic downturn, more Vermonters have relied on our state-run Medicaid program for basic health care, and that is straining Vermont’s budget.  Without this extension of federal help, before long our state could be forced to cut essential services and more jobs.  We have kept the pressure on, and the Senate has finally taken this important step toward providing this sorely needed infusion.”  

“In the midst of this horrendous recession – and at the same time we want our kids to get the best education possible – I am glad that we could overcome a Republican filibuster and save hundreds of jobs in our schools,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a member of the Senate education committee. “Further, with extremely high property taxes and a hard-pressed state government, this bill also will provide much-needed funds for Vermont and other states that desperately need that help.”

The education funding would avert layoffs of hundreds of thousands of public school teachers nationwide. The amendment would provide $10 billion for additional support to local school districts and help keep nearly 140,000 educators employed next year.

Vermont would receive $19.3 million to fund an estimated 300 jobs in public schools, according to U.S. Department of Education estimates.  The Senate vote came as Vermont school officials were notifying 283 school districts across the state of spending cuts totaling more than $23 million. Just as students are returning to classrooms this fall, the increased federal education dollars would fund jobs for teachers who have been laid off or who could face losing their jobs in the next school year.

The $16 billion for a temporary increase in federal Medicaid assistance would provide critical help for states struggling to maintain their Medicaid programs at a time of high enrollment and lagging state revenue.

Vermont’s share of the Medicaid assistance would total approximately $37 million, according to the state Joint Fiscal Office.

Nationwide, the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage – the federal share of Medicaid – would be increased by 3.2 percentage points from January to March 2011, and 1.2 percentage points from April to June 2011for all states, and by additional percentage points for states with high unemployment.  The temporary increases were enacted in last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in response to the increased Medicaid caseloads and decreased state revenues resulting from the recession.  That increase is scheduled to expire on December 31, 2010.  The new measure would continue the additional federal assistance for six months. 

By a vote of 61 to 38, the Senate cut off a filibuster and moved toward final passage of the bill.  The Senate is expected later this week to complete action on the measure, which must return to the House for a final vote before it is sent to President Obama.

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