One of the state’s largest departments began its multi-day budget hearing Tuesday.
Department of Health and Social Services secretary Molly Magarik parsed out the $21 million increase the department is seeking for its annual budget with the Joint Finance Committee.
Some lawmakers scrutinized the department’s current spending.
State Rep. Ruth Briggs King (R-Georgetown) is concerned there is not enough being done to coordinate efforts to curb homelessness.
“We’ll spend as much as $60,000 a month in one school district to bus homeless children and it’s just not the best way to do things and so I think if we truly look at and do a study of the homeless situation and all the costs that we would find out some other investments might be a better way to move,” said Briggs-King.
Magarik says her team has been working closely with the Delaware State Housing Authority to get people off the streets.
Margarik adds the biggest problem is helping those with severe mental health issues, or refuse help. She says building more wraparound services and support can help them get what they need.
Other highlights include a $12 million increase to the Medicaid budget, as the number of people eligible for Medicaid has jumped during the pandemic.
Magarik notes because of the state of emergency, they can’t kick people off the program, even if they lose their eligibility. The additional money is needed to keep the program fully funded through this period.
Magarik also spent a significant amount of time on Coronavirus and the Division of Public Health’s response.
JFC Chair William Carson (D-Smyrna) brought up concerns about small pharmacies across the state being left out of the vaccine distribution process.
Magarik says that’s because many smaller pharmacies weren’t able to get reimbursed for distributing the vaccine, and she is working to bring more of those pharmacies into the fold.
“We are working as quickly as we can and want them to have access to the vaccine and want them to be able to get reimbursed for any vaccinations that they do,” said Magarik.
Magarik also defended continued spending on both testing and vaccine distribution, after State Sen. Dave Lawson (R-Cheswold) said money should be focused on vaccine distribution.
Magarik countered that testing remains an important part of mitigating the spread of coronavirus. She says the state is spending over $9 million a year on COVID-19 testing.
The department is also looking for funds to help combat the opiod crisis as well as other substance abuse cases in the state, money to support a group violence intervention program and $500 thousand earmarked for State Rep. David Betnz's (D-Christiana) Health care provider loan repayment program, which, if passed, would start in January.
The program would help health care providers who settle in parts of the state lacking in healthcare coverage pay off their student loans, up to a maximum of $200 thousand.
Any money the state puts into the program is matched by both hostpitals and insurance companies up to $1 Million. Betnz asked Magarik why the department is only asking for half of that amount, and Margarik says that's only for half a year of the program.
She says DHSS will be back next year to ask for the full year's amount.
Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.