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Pioneer Editorial: New fed aid to help Medicaid

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has another shot at taking federal money for the state's health care programs, and he ought to take it.

The Republican governor said Thursday that this time he is open to taking about $240 million in federal aid from a new bill Congress approved earlier this month as part of $16 billion in Medicaid assistance allocated from the federal economic stimulus package to the states.

The governor became embroiled with the Legislature this past session over another federal program that would allow Minnesota early entry into an enhanced Medicaid program for the poor. Democrats say for about a $180 million investment, the state will gain $1.4 billion in federal aid. Gov. Pawlenty refused to sign the bill, and has refused a second bill giving him the authority -- or the next governor -- to join the program in the interim. He claims the state is too broke to upfront the money, and there are too many federal strings attached to it that will cost Minnesota more in the long run.

In the meantime, the program the Legislature enacted that the governor would sign is ineffective, forcing rural poor people to travel to the Twin Cities to one of the few hospitals that will see them under the program.

This new aid could perhaps be used to allow rural hospitals to again treat poor people locally without running seas of red ink.

The governor said his staff will look at the new legislation for anything that would affect the state negatively down the line, which we would expect him to do. But one argument seems to be winning the presidential contender over: the fact that Minnesota gives more in taxes to Washington than it receives in federal benefits.

Legislative leaders, in a letter to Gov. Pawlenty on Tuesday, urged that since the bill was passed, "Minnesota should work to ensure that the state receives our fair share of the allocation. Failure to accept the funds would result in residents paying federal taxes to pay for Medicaid programs in other states. In fact, you have previously raised the concern that Minnesota is a donor state, and receives only 72 cents for each $1 sent to Washington."

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, House Majority Leader Tony Sertich and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller also note that "increased enrollments in Medicaid and other human service programs continue to strain Minnesota's budget at a time when revenues continue to remain flat. What better way to promote economic growth than to ensure jobs are protected and created by mitigating some of the adverse impacts of current budget cuts?"

We agree, and Gov. Pawlenty should see the need for this federal funding to come to Minnesota, rather than being spent by some other state.