Weeks after striking the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina is still wreaking havoc on the federal government, and its ripple effects may soon be felt in San Joaquin County, county lobbyists in Washington, D.C. told the board of supervisors Tuesday.
Katrina delayed all legislation in Congress, which is now busy finding ways to pay for the physical damages and recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast. Between possible budget cuts to Medicaid and holdups regarding levee maintenance legislation, the Central Valley could be hit hard.
If Congress cuts $10 billion or more out of the federal Medicaid budget, as some plans suggest, it could lead to a $20 million loss locally, lobbyist Paul Sweet said.
"Congress has already adopted the cuts into the budget," Sweet said. "When you take $10 billion out of a program that is so important, it will have an effect everywhere."
On a separate issue, lobbyists said both federal and state elected officials finally began to consider how best to fix the Delta's levees.
Sweet and partner John McCamman presented a report on their dealings with federal lawmakers and said that all of the area's leaders - Congressmen Richard Pombo and Dennis Cardoza, and Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer - fought for levee restoration and other projects for which the county has requested money.
Many projects stalled when Congress focused on Katrina relief.
Supervisor Victor Mow asked Sweet and McCamman if the money going to the Gulf Coast would hurt the flow of money to the county. Sweet said the federal government is prepared to spend as much as is needed for the devastated region, and that everything else is secondary.
Supervisors agreed that the county's two biggest concerns would be the Medicaid cut and the levee restoration.
"One is not more important than the other," Supervisor Leroy Ornellas said after the meeting. "A cut in Medicaid would directly and immediately affect many residents who go to the hospital. A levee break would hurt many in the future."
County Health Care Director Ken Cohen said a federal cut would hit public and private sectors. He said that hospital care, pharmaceuticals and county services such as the substance abuse program, which has already been cut, would be hurt.
The county provides about 55 percent of all Medicaid services in the county, and if federal money was slashed, painful reductions would also be made to the county's services.