Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

State Senate president wants action on stimulus funds

PHOENIX – A top legislative leader said Wednesday he wants legislative action soon to make Arizona eligible for $1.6 billion of federal stimulus money, a step urged by Senate Democrats who cited interest costs the state might have to bear at a time when dollars are short.

“We need to do it. It’s just a matter of how,” said Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria. “That’s my intent at this point.”

The Peoria Republican stated his thinking to reporters after Senate Democrats called for prompt action to change how often Arizona screens people for continued eligibility for subsidized health care.

Federal officials said in March that a July 2008 change on frequency of screening put Arizona out of compliance with conditions for receiving additional Medicaid dollars.

The Democrats said Arizona is accruing $6,400 of daily interest on $286 million of the additional stimulus money that was obtained before the state was deemed to be out of compliance.

That’s money the state desperately needs to preserve essential services such as Child Protective Services amid its budget crisis, said Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Apache Junction. “Each and every day we are wasting $6,400,” Rios said.

An Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System official later said $6,400 is the estimated possible daily penalty the state could have to pay for its noncompliance.

But she also said it wasn’t clear the federal government would still impose a penalty if the state undoes the 2008 change so that it complies with the federal requirement.

“We just know that it’s a ‘may,’ ” said Monica Coury, an AHCCCS assistant director.

Republican Sen. Barbara Leff of Paradise Valley said the Legislature should make the change to remove any doubt about its eligibility for stimulus dollars needed to help balance the state budget.

“Let’s get it out of the way,” Leff said.

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