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    General Assembly OKs budget amendments

    RICHMOND – As the 2013 legislative session came to a close, the Virginia General Assembly approved amendments to the state’s two-year budget Saturday that included expanding Medicaid and spending more money on education.

    The amendments were passed by both the House (on an 83-17 vote) and the Senate (31-8) after tense discussions over Medicaid, which provides medical care for low-income people. Legislators agreed to expand the program if certain reforms are made.

    The reforms will make Medicaid look similar to non-government health insurance policies. Under the reforms, Medicaid will provide long-term care for more Virginians and more waivers for families with children who have special needs. Moreover, the state will standardize the way it calculates the income of Medicaid applicants under the new federal health-care law, the Affordable Care Act.

    “Virginia currently ranks 47th in the nation in Medicaid coverage,” said Sen. Mark Herring, D-Leesburg. “The expansion will cover over 300,000 uninsured Virginians and infuse tens of billions of dollars into our state’s economy.”

    To implement the reforms, the state Department of Medical Assistance and Services, which manages Medicaid in Virginia, will need permission from the federal government.

    A Virginia legislative commission will also have to review and approve the reforms before they can be adopted. If the commission approves the changes, they would be effective July 1, 2014, when the federal Medicaid eligibility standards are set to expand under the Affordable Care Act.

    The education initiatives included in the budget agreement were a top priority for Virginia, according to House Speaker William Howell, R-Stafford.

    The K-12 public education system will get $70.2 million for a 2 percent increase in salaries for teachers and school support employees. The schools will also get $30 million, over a period of five years, to make security upgrades.

    The higher education system will receive $3.4 million to add 1,700 in-state undergraduate seats at the College of William and Mary, Virginia Tech, James Madison University and the University of Virginia. Additionally, $8.6 million is being set aside for in-state undergraduate financial aid.

    “College affordability has become a significant barrier to higher education in recent years,” Gov. Bob McDonnell said. “This year, we put in excess of $47 million toward higher education.”

    A total of $4.1 million will be provided to the schools for research and economic development. Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia will each receive $1 million for cancer research.

    Another priority was putting money into Virginia’s savings accounts, Howell said. The final budget puts $125 million into these accounts: $95 million will go to the “rainy day fund” for contingencies and $30 million will be set aside in case the looming federal cuts harm Virginia’s economy.

    Other provisions included in the budget agreement are:

    -A 2 percent raise for state employees. They will also receive $65 for every year of service to help balance the salaries of employees that have been with the state a long time. The $65 increase is limited to employees with five years of service and will stop after 30 years to be capped at $1,950.

    -200 additional intellectual disability waivers and 50 developmental disability waivers have been added for fiscal year 2014. These waivers provide Medicaid assistance especially for children who have special needs.

    -$6.9 million for public higher education faculty salary increases up to 3 percent.

    -$1.3 million for grants to hire school resource officers and school security officers to work in elementary, middle and high schools.

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