Friday, December 9, 2022

Kemp allots $125M in federal money for school health centers

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced Tuesday that he will allocate $125 million in federal COVID-19 aid money to expand school health centers.

It’s Kemp’s latest move to spend federal money as he runs for re-election against Democrat Stacey Abrams. It’s also another example of how Kemp can use the power of his office to bolster his run against Abrams, especially because Georgia law gives him sole control over federal funds.

“This innovative program is consistent with our ongoing efforts to reduce costs and increase access to quality health care coverage for everyone — especially those in rural Georgia — without placing an unfair price on taxpayers,” Kemp said in a statement.

Democrats attack Kemp for giving money even as he opposed passage of several COVID-19 relief bills approved by Congress. He has also refused to call for the expansion of state-federal health insurance Medicaid to cover all adults.

“Kemp needs to stop claiming credit for the money he fought for in the first place,” said Abrams spokesman Alex Floyd. “If Kemp wants to invest in public education, it will take more than election year gimmicks.”

The state Department of Education will award grants of up to $1 million each to open health centers that will serve students, and in some cases, community members. The idea is to help student achievement by improving their physical and mental health, as well as meeting dental and vision needs.

Ashley Harris, who oversees school-based health centers for the Georgia Department of Education, said the money will “support students by removing a primary barrier to learning, access to health care.”

The new announcement will provide up to $1 million per project to schools that receive federal money because a large portion of students come from families in poverty. There are more than 1,500 Title 1 schools in Georgia.

The State Department said it is working on a time frame to award the grants, which will pay for additions, renovations, supplies and personnel. There are currently about 100 school-based health centers in Georgia, which typically operate as a partnership between the school district and a federally qualified health care center.

$1 million is significantly higher than federal grants of $200,000 done by the US Department of Health and Human Services in May to strengthen health centers in schools. Two federally qualified health centers in the state, East Georgia Health Care Center in Swainsboro and Medlink Georgia in Colbert received those grants.

Katie Byrd, a Kemp spokeswoman, said the governor’s office believes the $1 million will cover start-up costs and three years of operations. After that, the health center operator would have to keep it based on other income. Because the federally funded Children’s Health Insurance Program, known in Georgia as PeachCare for Kids, covers many children, providers will be able to claim insurance reimbursement for nearly all students.

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