5:09 am
Mon December 9, 2013

Budget planners monitoring welfare costs

For decades, Medicaid and welfare have been the bane of local government budget makers, with the local share putting pressure on taxpayers directly or indirectly.

With the Albany decision to start picking up more of the cost of Medicaid, some of that pressure has been eased and Washington is putting up more money toward Medicaid and an increasing case load. Potentially, that would ease the pressure on both Albany and local governments like Erie County.

The county cost of Medicaid this year will be around $218 million and an estimated $215 million in 2014.

Budget Director Bob Keating says the county might get a break.

"They are getting more from the feds, so. We may actually even get a lesser cost next year if the federal money were passed down to the counties," Keating said.

"We'll know that when the state budget comes out. At this point, we're not totally certain. We're hoping it will pass down to us but until the state budget comes out we don't know for sure."

There's another budget pressure from the continuing weak economy. That's a program called Safety Net. Albany decided to pick up the benefit cost as people used up their five years of welfare and told the counties the cost would be split evenly.

Over time, that meant the local share rose to 71 percent and counties are complaining Safety Net is hard on local treasuries. This year, Erie County expects to spend $48 million on Safety Net and spend more next year.