Lawmakers OK funds for county assistance

$11.6 million would help pay for certain services

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DES MOINES — Counties struggling to meet mental-health obligations would get $11.6 million in transition funds yet this fiscal year under a bipartisan plan forged Tuesday by state and local officials and lawmakers.

Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, and Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, co-leaders of the House-Senate human services budget subcommittee, said the counties and Iowa Department of Human Services officials have agreed to the transition allocation that will be approved — possibly by next week — for distribution by the department among the 26 counties that were having trouble meeting their Medicaid obligations as Iowa moves to a regional mental-health service delivery system.

The compromise is less than the $20 million top-end figure that the Legislature’s Mental Health and Disability Services Redesign Fiscal Viability Study Committee had recommended in January to cover Medicaid and mental health costs through June 30.

But it exceeded the low-end proposals offered by DHS officials and the $3.8 million that Gov. Terry Branstad included in the budget plan he laid out with his Jan. 15 Condition of the State address.

“We made our pledge that we were not going to cut services during this transition,” Hatch said. “We feel pretty secure that services will be continued.”

Heaton said he expected the House Appropriations Committee would fast-track the mental-health supplemental this week so the full Iowa House can consider it next week and send it to the Iowa Senate for approval.

This would give counties adequate lead time before they have to certify their budgets next month.

“They’ll be able to use those resources to transition into fiscal 2014,” Heaton said.

County officials told lawmakers last month that at least a third of Iowa’s 99 counties need millions of transition dollars through June 30 to make the switch to a regional delivery system for equalized mental-health services or they would be forced to reduce their help for recipients or create waiting lists to receive services.

Branstad’s office was non-committal on Tuesday’s legislative announcement.

“We have yet to see the latest mental-health funding proposal. We will review it with careful consideration once we receive it,” said Tim Albrecht, the governor’s spokesman.

DHS officials laid out three scenarios in December to help counties cover for non-Medicaid mental health services that ranged from $1.5 million to $11.6 million in state aid.

That was based on a DHS analysis of 32 county requests for transition funds that found those counties owed about $22.1 million in undisputed state bills as of Oct. 31. The remaining counties owed about $26 million, but they did not request state transition funds to balance their ledgers.

“I would be agreeable to $11.6 million. It’s much better than the alternative that was presented to us, absolutely,” said Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan.

Hatch called Tuesday’s compromise “pretty significant” but he said there remain money issues to be resolved in the fiscal 2014 budget related to the move from a county-based mental-health system to one where services are administered regionally and delivered locally.

Heaton said the split-control Legislature will have to “take one year at a time,” and now that the current transition year has been addressed “let’s see how it goes” in fiscal 2014.

“We’re not going to set up a trough here where counties can just come and feed whenever they want to,” he said.

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