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Lunch Briefs: Big MassHealth Calculations | SNAP Benefit Bump .: The State House News Service

Lunch Briefs: Big MassHealth Calculations | SNAP Benefit Bump

  • Fed Decision Likely To Boost State Budget's Bottom Line
  • Utility Adjustment To Bump Up SNAP Benefit

Fed Decision Likely To Boost State Budget's Bottom Line
No longer expecting the federal COVID-19 health emergency to end in April, state Medicaid officials told lawmakers Monday that the $17.8 billion budget for MassHealth proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker will likely need to increase by $645 million for next year, but the state's share of the cost will actually decline. The Baker administration had been preparing for the first time in two years to begin the process in May of redetermining Medicaid eligibility for the 2.2 million residents in the program. The rolls of MassHealth grew by about 400,000 people over the past two years of the pandemic. Assistant Secretary of MassHealth Amanda Cassel Kraft told House and Senate lawmakers that with the federal health emergency now expected to be extended into July, the budget for the state's largest program will have to be adjusted for the continued freeze on redetermination and the continuation of enhanced federal reimbursements tied to the pandemic. Baker's budget filed in January recommended a $1.8 billion decrease in MassHealth funding in fiscal 2023, or about 9.4 percent, to account for declines in enrollment. The resulting cost impact for the state was $293 million, or 4 percent growth, due to the loss of enhanced federal cost-sharing. Cassel Kraft said the extension of the emergency means the net cost to the state will be "a wash," costing about $21 million less. Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan had previously testified to the Joint Committees on Ways and Means that the administration expected MassHealth enrollment to fall to about 1.9 million, which is still above the 1.75 million pre-pandemic total. Cassel Kraft said MassHealth estimates that about 700,000 who would have otherwise seen their benefits "downgraded or terminated" due to income eligibility or other factors have had their MassHealth benefits protected by federal rules. She still expects enrollment to remain above pre-pandemic levels once redetermination is complete, and the agency now hopes to begin that process in August. The federal government has said it will give states at least 60 days notice before the federal public health emergency ends. Baker's budget also includes an expansion of the Medicare Saving Program that Cassel Kraft and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders will make 35,000 low-income senior newly eligible for more than $200 million in federal subsidies to lower costs for things like prescription drugs. This will be achieved by increasing eligibility from 165 percent to 200 percent of the federal poverty level at a cost to the state of $41 million. "I'm so, so happy about the Medicare Saving Program," said Sen. Cindy Friedman, vice chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. - Matt Murphy/SHNS

Utility Adjustment To Bump Up SNAP Benefit
About 200,000 Massachusetts households will get a boost to their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits starting this month to reflect rising utility costs. The Department of Transitional Assistance, in a press release announcing the move, said SNAP benefit levels are determined in part by average utility bills and that Massachusetts received federal approval to adjust heating costs used to set benefit amounts. The increase totals about $1.4 million, according to DTA, and for recipients will average $8 a month or $96 a year, with amounts varying based on household size, incomes and expenses. The state plans to send messages in late March with information on the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program to around 300,000 households that receive SNAP benefits and include a family member with a disability or who is 60 or older. Similar multilingual text messages went out to more than 69,000 SNAP households with young children in January, and the DTA said that outreach "helped lead to an 85% increase in new LIHEAP applications among this population compared to the same time period in the previous year." "With these actions, we can ensure the Commonwealth's most vulnerable families and households continue to have access to these important programs," Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy said in a statement. "Especially as we continue to make progress toward our economic recovery, it's vital that families with the greatest need are not disproportionately affected by the rise in costs of consumer goods and fuel during the winter." LIHEAP is accepting applications for fuel assistance through May 13, 2022. The program served about 135,000 households in the 2020-2021 heating season, according to the Baker administration. - Katie Lannan/SHNS


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