South Carolina looks to stimulus to restore health services

With dozens of disability advocates watching from the gallery, the S.C. House voted to add $173.6 million of federal money to the state budget to restore proposed cuts to health care services.

The 96-6 vote was the first major decision during what is expected to be a week of floor debate on the House's proposed $5.1 billion state spending plan. Congress has yet to give final approval to the money that extends a more generous federal health care match through June 2011, but House lawmakers are convinced the money will eventually get to S.C.

The money means that state agencies can: Continue in-home services for the disabled; scrap a proposed cap of three prescriptions per month for Medicaid patients; continue funding for preventive health care programs such as community clinics and Welvista, which works with pharmaceutical companies to provide free drugs to those in need; set aside $27 million for next year, when the state will face a more than $1 billion budget hole when federal stimulus money ends.

"We are in a much, much better place," said Department of Disabilities and Special Needs spokeswoman Lois Park Mole. "Our services are in a much better place."

House Democrats said restoring the cuts was a top priority, and said S.C. Republicans were balancing the state budget before the federal money was approved.

"We will not allow the Republican leadership in this state to balance the budget on the back of the most vulnerable," House minority leader Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, said.

A half-dozen Republicans voted against spending the new federal money, arguing the House should not commit the money until it is in hand.

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