Politics & Government

California leaders woo Washington for billions in federal aid

California Assembly Speaker John Perez, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg discuss their meetings with federal officials.
California Assembly Speaker John Perez, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg discuss their meetings with federal officials. Abby Sewell/Medill News Service/MCT

WASHINGTON — California state legislative leaders made the rounds in Washington this week to lobby for billions in federal funding to help implement health care reform in the state and plug its projected $20 billion deficit.

California Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, said Wednesday that they feel optimistic California will get federal help based on meetings with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and White House staff.

Although the lawmakers said they didn't get any concrete commitments, they credited a similar visit to Washington in January by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders with bringing in $675 million in financial relief through enhanced reimbursements for Medicare prescription drug benefits.

Perez said California is not seeking preferential treatment.

"We're not talking about a bailout, but rather making sure that California gets a fair return on its federal tax investment," he said.

Among the requests were:

  • $2 billion a year for the next five years through a Medicaid waiver to help the state bolster its health care system before major federal health reform measures take effect in 2014.
  • A six-month extension of an enhanced federal match for the state's Medi-Cal and child welfare programs
  • A one-year extension of federal stimulus funding for social services.
  • Steinberg said federal assistance would help the state avoid cuts to its health care system at a time when it should be expanding health coverage.

    "To expand, you have to protect what you have," Steinberg said. "To expand, you need to build upon. It's difficult to build upon an infrastructure that is crumbling."

    The Department of Health and Human Services would need to approve the Medicaid waiver. An HHS spokeswoman said the office has been working closely with California on the waiver concept and is awaiting a formal waiver application from the state.

    Schwarzenneger, who became the first Republican governor to endorse the federal health care reform law last week, joined Democratic legislative leaders in the request for federal assistance in a letter sent to Sebelius late last month.

    (The Medill News Service is a Washington program of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.)

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