PLATTSBURGH - One day after President Barack Obama signed his $1.2-trillion stimulus package into law, the people of the North Country learned the impact it is expected to have on the region.
In a press conference held at the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce Feb. 18, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D- N.Y., announced an estimated $9.47 million will come to Clinton County through the stimulus package. The money, said the senator, will be distributed over the next 25 months beginning in March and assist the county with its ever-rising share of Medicaid expenses.
The funding, which is allocated in the law through a Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, is the result of the federal government increasing its share of covering Medicaid expenses so county governments will be required to pay less, Schumer explained.
"The purpose is very simple - to have the counties avoid either raising property taxes or dramatically cutting jobs," said Schumer. "Neither would be very good in a difficult time. Neither is good at any time, but at a time of recession, it's a particularly a bad thing to do."
The funding allows the counties to allocate what they were spending on Medicaid for other line items, like road improvements or retaining personnel.
"So, it gives the counties money to spend as they wish," said Schumer, adding it is his hope it will help counties avoid raising property taxes and massive lay-offs.
"If the federal government pumps money in and state and local governments are taking added money out of the economy by raising taxes or laying off people, it doesn't accomplish very much," said Schumer.
According to Clinton County Legislature chairman James R. Langley Jr., R-Area 7, Peru, the money will greatly help the county, whose approximate $140 million annual budget consists 16 percent of Medicaid expenses. Sixty-two percent of the money raised by property taxes is used to pay down that cost, added Department of Social Services commissioner Jay T. LePage.
"That's a huge expense," said Schumer.
According to LePage, 14,000 people in Clinton County receive some form of support through the Department of Social Services, such as Medicaid or Family HealthPlus.
"That's 17 percent of our population," said LePage. "That's the largest number of enrolled we've ever had and it's a double-digit increase since last December."
LePage added he didn't provide the numbers to show the "gloom and doom" being experienced in Clinton County, but stated the reality is "the economy is having a dramatic effect on local government."
The senator understood, stating the national economy is in "the worst shape that it's been in since the Great Depression," with 600,000 jobs lost across the nation last month alone. Those job losses equate to less money being spent supporting the economy and more potential for an increased need in government-funded services such as Medicaid. That's why the infusion of funding is expected to provide help to the local economy when it's needed most, he added.
In addition to funding for Clinton County, the stimulus package is expected to provide Essex and Franklin counties with $3.66 million and $5.45 million in Medicaid relief, respectively, also over a 25-month period.