LOCKPORT—Sen. Robert G. Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, and Assemblywoman Jane L. Corwin, R-Clarence, met with members of the Republican majority of the Niagara County legislature last week to discuss state mandates from Albany and how Niagara County can opt out or reduce costs of Medicaid and the welfare program known as "Safety Net".
County leaders, led by Legislature Majority Leader Rick Updegrove, R-Lockport, complained last year to Gov. Cuomo about the ever-increasing costs of Medicaid, which currently accounts for 60 percent of local property taxes.
Medicaid Seen As Too Generous
Medicaid costs in Niagara County are more than $45 million a year, providing benefits to 35,500 people whose top of the line health care benefits are superior to coverage provided by employers for the average American worker who pays for it.
Among the solutions county lawmakers are seeking is passage of Assembly bill A.4072, sponsored by Corwin, that would allow counties to opt out of providing various Medicaid services not mandated by the federal government.
The federal Medicaid program mandates that states provide only 10 basic services. There are 21 optional services.
New York State mandates 30 of the services, the 10 required by federal law, and 20 of 21 optional services - the most benefits in the USA.
Because of the extras provided New York's Medicaid plan has become one of the two costliest items in the state budget.
New York spends more on providing Medicaid benefits than Texas and California combined. Other states, including California, have reduced benefits covered.
Medicaid Better than Working Families Health Insurance
New York's Medicaid is superior to most private insurance plans, superior even to those of the Erie and Niagara county civil service employees whose job it is to hand out the benefits. County workers do not have dental coverage, and they don't have eye coverage, either, but Medicaid recipients do.
Things like medical exams are an optional benefit not mandated by the federal government, as are regular eye exams and eye glasses. As a matter of fact, there is no limit in New York State. You could get 10 pairs of eyeglasses in a year if you wanted to.
"As the former mayor and treasurer of the City of North Tonawanda, I worked hard to cut costs, reduce spending and deliver taxpayer relief," said Ortt. "Allowing counties across the state to 'opt out' of the costly, non-federally-mandated Medicaid services will provide some of that same relief by dramatically decreasing our taxes."
"Unfunded state mandates are one of the major cost drivers for municipalities across the state," Corwin explained. "….A good, long overdue first step is allowing localities to 'opt-out' of our State's burdensome mandates so savings can be passed on to taxpayers."
County lawmakers also urged passage of Senate bill, S.1814, from Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst, that would impose a Medicaid residency requirement, as the county has, in recent years, seen a significant number of applicants for taxpayer-funded medical care come from outside the county—and even outside the state.
State Welfare Benefits Are Out of Control
The state and county lawmakers also addressed changes initiated by the governor's budget to the funding formula for Safety Net - the unique state welfare program that enables people to stay on welfare for life - that caused the direct costs to county taxpayers to rise by more than $2 million per year.
Safety Net, a supplemental welfare program, kicks in for people not eligible for the federal Temporary Assistance to Need Families because they have exhausted the full five years of federal benefits, or did not meet eligibility guidelines.
The program grows more costly every year, costing local taxpayers $7.8 million last year—more than 10 percent of their total property tax bill.
The program became more costly after Cuomo - through a state mandate - changed the funding structure in his 2011 executive budget. Prior to that year, the state and counties each paid 50 percent of Safety Net's costs. Under Cuomo's new funding scheme, counties pay 71 percent of the costs and the state pays 29 percent. This increased local costs by $2.2 million per year, while the overall program's costs, locally, have climbed by 167 percent since 2006.
Updegrove noted that Safety Net is not mandated by the federal government, under welfare reforms signed into federal law by former President Bill Clinton in 1996, which capped at five years or 61 months the maximum time limit for collecting welfare benefits.
Lifetime Welfare Attracts Loafers to New York, and Taxpayers Away
The New York State Legislature, heavily laden with liberal Democrats in New York City, responded with Safety Net to carry welfare beyond five years - if you live or are willing to relocate to New York.
There is no limit on how long a person can collect welfare benefits on Safety Net.
New York State is one of the only states that provide for public assistance benefits beyond five years.
County lawmakers urged the state delegation to work to pass reforms that allow them to opt out of offering the Safety Net program altogether.
"The added cost to taxpayers for the Safety Net program has gone on for far too long," said Ortt. "What taxpayers need is relief, rather than an Albany mandate that only deepens state government's pockets while burning holes in the pockets of local taxpayers."
Too Generous Medicaid, Safety Net - an Attack on Working People
Medicaid -the most generous plan in the nation - for those who don't pay for it and the most burdensome for those who do - the taxpayers.
Safety Net - the ability to remain on welfare for life.
These two programs are certain to attract people to relocate to New York.
Indeed Americans are famous for their willingness to relocate to areas offering better opportunities, and chronic welfare recipients are, for the most part, Americans.
Their exodus from less welfare-friendly states to New York can almost be seen as a cultural phenomenon not dissimilar to the westward expansion the country experienced during the 19th Century. It has almost equaled the exodus of working families out of New York to more taxpayer friendly states like Texas, Florida and Nevada.
The $99,000 question is - why is it that people who don't work, can't provide for themselves, or just refuse to pay for it themselves, receive superior benefits to people who bust their tails to pay for it?
How long can the Niagara Frontier sustain the continued exodus of bright, educated, hardworking people, replacing them with those too lazy or stupid to work, or whose drug and alcohol dependencies make showing up for a job every day impossible?
The political will to put an end to the gravy train that is the New York State welfare system is lacking because powerful downstate Democrats in the State Legislature have a huge number of welfare recipients among their voting constituencies.
Updegrove, however, sounded optimistic about recent political changes in Albany.
Former Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, had previously blocked Medicaid reform votes from ever even coming to a vote. Updegrove said he hoped the man who replaced Silver, Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, would be more even-keeled in running the lower chamber.
"We are calling upon Speaker Heastie to show he does not share former Speaker Silver's heavy-handedness," Updegrove said. "Give these bills a fair airing and a fair up-or-down vote."