Hed: Task force to study block grants
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – The state should have an open and comprehensive process in administering blocks grants that probably will come to the state from the federal government.
That was the message of the Mississippi Coalition of Block Grants during a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the state Capitol. And a task force appointed this week by Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to study how to implement those grants is a step in the right direction, said Rims Barber, a Jackson-based activist for social issues.
The task force, which includes nine state senators, members of the executive department and a Jackson physician, is responsible for studying how the state will be affected if the federal government does start providing funds in the form of block grants.
If the state does not prepare for the block grants, Warren Yoder, a member of the Mississippi Coalition on Block Grants, said, “We (the people of the state) could be totally overwhelmed. We would never know what hit us. The task force is the first step in a long process.”
The block grant proposal would entail the federal government providing funds to the states in the form of block grants for such items as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food stamps, Medicaid and other programs. States then could develop their own rules and regulations on who is eligible for that money.
Currently, the state must follow federal guidelines – even though the Clinton administration has been granting waivers for welfare reform. The state receives the money based on the number of eligible participants.
At any rate, the block grants will involve a lot of money. Barber said the state gets about $1 billion per year in Medicaid payments from the federal government to help pay for the medical needs of about 500,000 needy people. About 50,000 people in the state receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children payments.
Federal officials have been talking about switching to a block grant system for more than a year. Barber said Congress is making another effort to get a block grant bill to Clinton by July 4.
Lt. Gov. Musgrove said he believes block grants are coming; he’s just not sure when.
He said the task force he appointed would, “look at the possibilities of change, to see how it will affect us and to see how to be more efficient in offering those services for a better process.” Members of the task force include Sens. John White, D-Baldwyn, and Hob Bryan, D-Amory.
The block grant coalition, which is a group of 60 private and public organizations concerned about a possible cutback in services for the poor because of block grants, said the task force should hold hearings and get input from the public. They suggested hearings in at least every congressional district.
Part of the debate is whether the block grants should go through the legislative appropriations process.
“I would think there is a better chance of an open process through the Legislature rather than having a bureaucrat sitting in a closet some place writing new rules and regulations,” Barber said.