The third week of the 2021 legislative session under the Gold Dome began on Tuesday, January 26. It was especially busy as we spent four days in session and several House committees held their first meetings, both virtually and in-person, to begin considering legislation. During our third week of session, the House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees passed the Amended Fiscal Year 2021 (AFY 2021) budget and sent a finalized supplemental budget to the House Rules Committee. On Thursday, January 28, the AFY 2021 budget was passed.
In June 2020, the original Fiscal Year 2021 budget was set using a revenue estimate of $25.9 billion and reduced funding for all state agencies in preparation for a state revenue decline due to the pandemic. Our state’s economic outlook has improved greatly since then as businesses have safely reopened and much needed federal relief has been distributed. The House’s version of the AFY 2021 budget is based on Governor Brian Kemp’s comprehensive budget proposal for the remainder of the fiscal year, and his revenue estimate for the AFY 2021 budget is $26.56 billion, which is an increase of $654.3 million, or 2.4 percent, compared to the original budget. HB 80 restores critical funding and reflects the House’s priorities, such as restoring 60 percent of previous reductions to K-12 education funding formulas and boosting grant funding to support our public health agency as it addresses the pandemic. This budget also recognizes $2.7 billion in federal funds that are meant to help our agencies, colleges and local school systems respond to COVID-19.
K- 12 Education
The largest expenditure in the state budget each year goes toward K-12 education, and as such, HB 80 designates a total of $9.6 billion, or 43.4 percent, of the state’s general funds to our K-12 education systems. Last year, the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula funding was reduced by $950 million to account for a 10 percent decline in state revenue, and, at the time, it was impossible for the General Assembly to pass a constitutional, balanced budget without making reductions. However, since state revenues have increased, we were able to restore 60 percent of this reduction to the QBE formula in HB 80. The House also appropriated $41 million for a midterm adjustment to the QBE formula, holding schools harmless for the 35,264, or 2 percent, decline in student enrollment due to the pandemic. Also, as a result of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the House’s version of the amended budget reflects $144.6 million in federal funds for the Department of Early Care and Learning for the Child Care and Development Block Grants.
The House’s supplemental budget also includes important funding for higher education in our state. In the House’s AFY 2021 budget, the University System of Georgia (USG) receives $70.1 million that was not included in the FY 2021 budget; this accounts for the USG’s 1.8 percent enrollment growth and a half percent increase in square footage for its campuses throughout the state. Just as we restored funding for K-12 education, we also restored $8.1 million, or 60 percent, to the USG B-Unit programs, such as the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Medical College of Georgia Hospital/Clinic, among others. HB 80 also adds $3.5 million in new funding for enrollment growth at the Technical College System of Georgia.
As the state continues to grapple with COVID-19, the House also prioritized funding to support our public health agency, which has been pivotal in our state’s handling of COVID-19, as well as other health-focused initiatives. To improve the state’s current response plan, HB 80 includes $18 million for the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) to replace and modernize its outdated epidemiologic surveillance system; with these funds, the DPH would also be able to implement further infrastructure improvements that would help keep track of COVID-19 cases. Likewise, HB 80 provides $285,997 for the DPH to hire three essential leaders to help navigate the agency’s COVID-19 response: a chief medical officer, a deputy commissioner of public health, and a chief data officer. We also recognized more than $1 billion from federal relief packages to support the DPH, including funding for epidemiology and laboratory capacity, COVID-19 vaccine preparedness and public health crisis response.
The House approved $19.3 million to increase the Medicaid growth allowance for skilled nursing centers by five percent, totaling a rate increase of 3.5 percent. Skilled nursing centers have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, and this allowance would assist these centers that have experienced large revenue losses and increased staffing costs associated with COVID-19. As a result of the federal “Families First Coronavirus Response” Act, HB 80 captures $372.9 million in savings for the AFY 2021 budget from a temporary 6.2 percent boost in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) rate. In HB 80, we also appropriated $1.8 million in start-up costs for the Patients First Act and the state’s 1115 Medicaid waiver, which will be effective July 1, 2021. Further, our version of the AFY 2021 budget provides $15.4 million to support the increased utilization of the AIDS Drug Assistance Program during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Georgia’s human services agencies also receive important appropriations in the House’s amended budget. In the AFY 2021 budget, we recognized various federal investments that protect essential programs for the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD). HB 80 acknowledges more than $130 million in federal relief funds for human service agencies used for a variety of pandemic response-related grants, and the bill also recognizes an additional $35 million in savings from the enhanced FMAP rate, which will ensure funding for certain essential programs within the DHS and the DBHDD.
Furthermore, HB 80 utilizes $1.7 million in FMAP savings for a new 10-bed behavioral health crisis center to specifically serve Georgians with a mental health diagnosis and/or an intellectual or developmental disability. We also allocated $4.7 million to the DHS to anticipate an increase in Medicaid services resulting from the Patients First Act. Finally, HB 80 supports foster care in our state by partially restoring $176,500 for the Georgia Multi-Agency Alliance for Children (MAAC) to provide educational services to more than 80 foster children, in addition to the more than 1,700 children already served through this program.
Criminal Justice & Public Safety
In HB 80, we also identified funding opportunities to help our criminal justice and public safety agencies conduct their work more efficiently. In our AFY 2021 budget, we allocated more than $427,000 to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) for recruitment and retention of medical examiners. Georgia’s medical examiners conduct nearly 40 percent more autopsies than the recommended amount due to staff shortages caused by low wages, and this funding would make these positions more competitive. HB 80 also includes an additional $223,600 for the GBI to expand the state’s gang database with critical gang-related information provided by local law enforcement. Additionally, the amended budget accounts for $100 million from the CARES Act for public safety agencies to help other state agencies as they continue to respond to the pandemic.
Economic Development & Transportation
The House also designated funding in the AFY 2021 budget to assist Georgia’s economy as it continues to recover from the pandemic. The House reaffirmed its commitment to rural broadband expansion by allocating $20 million for the OneGeorgia Authority to launch its new broadband infrastructure grant program, which would greatly assist rural areas in leveraging resources to address broadband needs that are specific to each rural community. This funding would also provide for a grant administrator to oversee and maintain this broadband program. Furthermore, the AFY 2021 budget recognizes the following CARES Act funding that specifically supports transportation efforts in our state: $25.7 million in CARES Act payments to the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority and $410.8 million in CARES Act funding for the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Airport Aid program.
Georgia Department of Labor
The House’s AFY 2021 budget recognizes more than $60 million in federal funding for the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) to address workforce issues resulting from the pandemic. This includes funding for the department’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) Program, the Short-Term Compensation Program and the Dislocated Worker Program. Many Georgians have experienced unemployment since the start of the pandemic, and the GDOL staff have certainly been overwhelmed by the continual high number of UI benefit claims submitted each week. With this federal funding, the GDOL will be able to better process and pay claims to Georgians.
These are just a few of the highlights of the House’s amended budget. The AFY 2021 budget will now go through the legislative process in the Senate, where it will undergo further review. Next, the House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees will begin to focus on the Fiscal Year 2022 budget. As my colleagues and I continue to work on the state budget bills, I encourage you to reach out to me with any questions or concerns you have regarding the state’s budgeting process or any other legislation that interests you.
I remain dedicated to serving your interests as your state representative, and I hope that you will contact me with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the 2020 legislative session or with any proposals or recommendations for future legislation.
You can also stay in touch by visiting our website at www.house.ga.gov to watch a live stream of the House in action, as well as archived committee meetings, and review legislation that we are considering.
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Thank you for allowing me to be your representative.
Representative Butch Parrish