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New York needs help from Washington

Governor Andrew Cuomo gives his daily briefing on

Governor Andrew Cuomo gives his daily briefing on the Corona virus March 30, 2020. Credit: Office of the Governor

New York desperately needs the billions in Medicaid aid the federal government approved two weeks ago. That money, which also includes shares for New York City and counties, was granted to states partly to help cover medical expenses, skyrocketing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and partly to address the budget concerns the nation’s economic shutdown is creating.

The $6.7 billion allocated might well be a lot less, because the amount is premised on the current emergency declaration lasting a full year, which it likely won’t. So in the end the state may get less than $3 billion.

And New York also needs money to fund state aid to schools, the state responsibility most endangered by this pandemic-created downward spiral of sales tax and income tax revenue.

The new federal law would put New York in the position of choosing between the $6.7 billion or the reform of Medicaid, the most generous in the nation, which costs $75 billion annually. That law should be rewritten. But what the state needs most right now from the federal government is money, in whatever name or form is possible, with no strings attached, to meet a shortfall that could reach $15 billion next year.

The State Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo are finalizing a budget this week that will hurt education funding from the state. How could it not? A tentative deal between Cuomo and legislative leaders is to provide no increase over last year’s foundation aid formula. There would be a provision allowing more cuts or increases every three months, so more federal help is critical.

So there is the likelihood that more help from Washington will be needed just for the state to maintain last year’s level of school funding.

No state aid increases will mean school districts will present budgets that either cut programs and staff, or raise taxes. Both are tough pills to swallow.

The coronavirus will wreck the economy in ways still unknown. But the unfortunate wording of the stimulus bill put New York even further in the hole. This is how it unfolded. The state’s Medicaid reforms, which would save $2.5 billion annually, were drawn up by a team of union and hospital representatives commissioned before the coronavirus appeared but after budget woes did. The reforms include an overdue end to a major abuse: the ability of spouses with assets to refuse to pay medical bills, along with reforms to generous medical transportation practices, an across-the-board cut in spending and a 60-month lookback for home- and community-based care eligibility.

These reforms are even more necessary as state revenue craters. But it’s unlikely Washington will exempt New York from the new rules. So another bucket of funding specifically for education is needed.

Tax increases, whether on income or property, are not the answer.

New York’s Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and our House members must demand more help for New York in the next federal disaster-relief bill.

— The editorial board