Paterson’s Budget Will (Eventually) Boost Welfare, Expand Health Care

ALBANY—David Paterson's next proposed budget will contain a lot of cuts, but administration officials announced yesterday the state will also increase welfare grants and make it easier to get state-sponsored health insurance.

Payments meted out under a new temporary assistance program will increase 10 percent annually for three years, beginning in January 2010.  This is the first spending increase for the program–which offers cash assistance to needy families–since 1990.

The state will also stop requiring a face-to-face interview and fingerprinting for Medicaid applications, and expand access to the Family Health Plus program so it includes 19- and 20-year-olds, as well as qualified public employees.

"The nation and the state are in midst of the greatest economic crisis we have endured since the Great Depression and there are families struggling to provide basic needs for their loved ones," Paterson said in a statement about the policies, which will be included in the 2009 budget he plans to release tomorrow. "Even in the face of dwindling government revenues, we need to make critical investments to ensure that people don't go hungry and families receive proper health care that is centered on prevention."

Reporters were briefed on the changes during a conference call with Joseph Baker, deputy secretary for health and human services and Kristin Proud, deputy director of state operations. Baker was asked about a report that the budget will include a new "obesity tax" on non-diet soda. Errol Cockfield, a spokesman for the governor, said only that "details of the governor's proposed budget will be unveiled Tuesday."

While the new policies will certainly endear Paterson to advocates for the poor, they don't cost much. Since the increase in assistance grants doesn't take effect until 2010, they will only cost $8 million in the coming fiscal year. Some of the changes to the health insurance coverage are administrative, others changes will be funded by the federal government.

Baker indicated at a forum last week that there will be cuts to Medicaid and other health programs. Paterson’s Budget Will (Eventually) Boost Welfare, Expand Health Care