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November 23, 2014

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Nevada could get nearly $1.5 billion from stimulus plan

CARSON CITY -- Preliminary details on a $789 billion national stimulus plan show that Nevada is in line for $1.46 billion, a third of that for Medicaid and other human services programs and another third for education.

The preliminary figure, provided by Federal Funds Information for States, a service of the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures, is welcome news for Nevada officials trying to deal with a projected revenue shortfall of more than $2 billion.

Earlier versions of the stimulus legislation had put the state's total at about $1.3 billion.

The Nevada stimulus funds include $450 million in Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, or FMAP, funds, primarily for Medicaid. The FMAP figure was confirmed by Jon Summers, spokesman for U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

While Medicaid programs are in line for most of the higher-than-expected FMAP money, other human services programs that are facing cuts in Nevada also could benefit -- depending on conditions imposed by Congress for receipt of the funds.

Josh Hicks, Gov. Jim Gibbons' chief of staff, said the governor would propose to the state Legislature that the FMAP money be used first to ensure that Nevada's growing Medicaid caseload is properly funded. He added that likely would use up all of the $450 million. Medicaid is now budgeted for $1 billion in state funds over the next two fiscal years.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said lawmakers were gearing up for a rapid review of the FMAP and other stimulus funds. Regarding funding for construction projects, she said the goal is to produce jobs and ensure "the biggest jolt to the economy possible."

Ben Kieckhefer, spokesman for state Health and Human Services chief Mike Willden who oversees Medicaid, said the $450 million in FMAP money in the stimulus plan could help other human services programs which currently face budget restrictions.

"There's a lot we can spend that money on and do good things," said Kieckhefer, mentioning the Nevada Check Up program of health insurance for poor children, rural mental health clinics, an indigent accident account that pays for hospital costs of indigents hurt in accidents, and personal care attendants for the infirm and elderly.

The stimulus money for Nevada also includes $480 million in education funding, according to the FFIS report. That includes $150 million for special education and Title 1 programs. There's no construction-project funding for education.

Hicks said initial information on the emerging stimulus plan didn't include details on any higher education funding that Nevada might get.

About $210 million of the stimulus funds for Nevada will be used for "shovel-ready" highway construction projects, mainly in the Las Vegas and Reno areas, Nevada's population centers. Various projects that could get some of that money have a combined total cost of several hundred million dollars.

Also in the stimulus plan is about $30 million for justice assistance grants; and about $70 million in general-purpose funds that give states flexibility in how they're spent.

Hicks said Gibbons would propose to the Legislature that the first use of that be to reduce his proposed 6 percent pay cuts for state employees and educators in the K-12 and higher education systems.

Until now, state officials had been trying without much success to calculate the impact of the stimulus plan on Nevada. The guesswork had been described as "a little bit of nailing Jell-O to the wall" by Dan Klaich, executive vice chancellor of the state's university-college system.

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