The House Must Act to Approve Aid to the States

We’ve repeatedly blogged about the importance of additional federal aid to states in order to keep the economic recovery moving forward and to prevent even more devastating reductions in state spending. National employment data for July, released Friday, drove home the importance of additional federal dollars, showing a 48,000 job drop in state and local employment.

The Senate approved $26.1 billion in federal aid on Thursday by a 61-39 vote. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the House back from summer recess for a Tuesday vote. California stands to gain $3.1 billion from the measure approved by the Senate. The additional federal funds include $1.9 billion from extending an “enhanced” federal share of costs for the Medi-Cal program for an additional six months and $1.2 billion from an “Education Jobs” program ­for ­school districts that rehire former staff or hire new staff.

House approval of the package is by no means certain. Some traditional supporters of aid to states have raised concerns that one of the provisions used to pay for the aid to states would phase out the temporary increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program payments (SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps) in 2014 rather than ­in 2018. We wish that the Senate had found another source of funds to cover the additional cost or, alternatively, approved the one-time aid to states without a funding source. Unfortunately, they did not. The Senate bill also fails to provide continued funding for the TANF ­Emergency Fund, which California counties have used to put people to work in subsidized jobs. Despite these problems and in light of the substantial budget crises facing California and many other states, House passage of the bill that did meet the tough 60-vote requirement for Senate approval is imperative.

Our support for the measure as it stands reflects concern over the future of an economic recovery that could be hampered, and potentially reversed, by massive state budget reductions and resulting layoffs. Close friends and allies have also convinced us that expanded SNAP benefits are not likely to survive until 2018 in a newly deficit-obsessed Congress and believe that the best use of these funds is to help cash-strapped states.

For all of these reasons, the House should approve the Senate measure promptly, so that California’s lawmakers can move forward on a state spending plan assured that at least some help is on its way.

–Jean Ross

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