The state Legislature’s Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee voted Friday to recommend using roughly $37 million from the Medicaid rainy day fund to offset proposed cuts to social services. Those cuts include reducing payments to foster families and money for domestic violence shelters.
Plummeting tax revenues due to the coronavirus pandemic have forced lawmakers to find a way to cut up to $1.3 billion from the state’s budget for next fiscal year.
“It's raining outside,” said Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, who sponsored the motion to use the rainy day fund. “The rainy funds are there for a reason. And this is an emergency. We should be able to utilize those funds to diminish the impact to programs that are critical for people to live.”
But Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who voted against the motion, argued the economy could get even worse in the coming years.
“It's raining now,” Ray said, “but if this current administration and the state does not get the state open, we're gonna be flooded and under water when we come back.”
The Legislature could only use the funds in this way if Medicaid costs exceed the current cost by 8%, according to legislative fiscal analyst Russell Frandsen. Currently, it’s estimated to be 7.5%, he said.
“That being said, there will be an updated consensus cost coming soon that may or may not give you the 8% you need,” Frandsen said. “Either way, with this motion, you'll need a statutory change if you want to use it for more than Medicaid purposes, or the Medicaid costs are less than 8%.”
The Executive Appropriations Committee plans to meet next month to review budget cut recommendations across all agencies.
Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson