Democratic leader: Harwell’s TennCare work bill is a ‘political stunt’ using financial gimmicks

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart says House Speaker Beth Harwell’s bill to impose work requirements on some people enrolled in the state’s TennCare program is “a political stunt to get votes in the governor’s race” and relies on “fairy tale” financial gimmicks to cover projected costs, reports the Times Free Press.

The bill (HB1551) has cleared House committees and is scheduled for a floor vote Monday. Though Harwell is prime sponsor, it’s being presented by Rep. Dan Howell (R-Georgetown).

“Speaker Harwell could not come up with the cash she needed to fund the work-requirement Medicaid bill, so Speaker Harwell and the House Republicans have now turned to Washington-style smoke and mirrors to conjure up out of nothing a fake fiscal note to pass their bill without paying for it,” …Stewart of Nashville said.

“We don’t just make up fairy tales to get funding,” he added.

(The bill) directs the state to ask the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to grant a waiver of Medicaid rules to implement “reasonable work and community engagement requirements” on working-age adults without dependent children under 6.

But under a new amendment, the Haslam administration also is directed to seek simultaneous approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human services to take money from unused money from Families First, the state’s federally funded Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, to underwrite the annual costs of the program.

Legislative fiscal analysts’ verdict on the original bill was that Tennessee’s annual costs, if the bill becomes law, would amount to some $18.7 million. Another $15.3 million would come from the federal government.

But now, the state’s Department of Human Services’ current annual federal block grant of $190 million for Families First is coming into play… President Donald Trump has proposed cutting the federal TANF program.

In issuing a fiscal note, the General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee analysis has several caveats… Seizing on the uses of “unknown” impact on the state in the fiscal note, Stewart said the Tennessee Constitution requires that any law resulting in expenditure of state funds “shall be null and void unless, during the session in which the act receives final passage, an appropriation is made for the estimated first year’s funding.”

It thus requires “that you go get money now, not later, not from some fantasy game magically conjured up,” Stewart said.

… Harwell’s spokeswoman, Kara Owen, dismissed Stewart’s arguments, saying “work supports and supportive services are one of the defined categories that TANF funds can be used for.”

She noted that TennCare originally estimated that case work and supportive services “would be the largest expense in implementing a work requirement, so it only makes sense to leverage the federal dollars that are already available to us for that purpose.”

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