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Lawmakers Hold Hearing to Determine Effect of Budget Cuts
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Members of Mississippi’s Legislative Black Caucus are holding hearings to determine the effects of next year’s budget on state agencies.

Some state agency directors are trying to figure out how they’re going to best navigate fiscal year 2017’s tight budget, which begins July 1st.

Department of Mental Health Executive Director Diana Mikula says this year’s $8 million cut, in addition to those of recent years, limits the number of patients the department can help.

“The appropriations for MDH psychiatric programs have decreased by $24.7 million dollars in general funds. In that same time, the number of beds that these programs have operated has decreased by 500. DMH cannot absorb a cut of [that] magnitude without a decrease of services.”

Mikula made the remark before a hearing of the Legislative Black Caucus yesterday. The lawmakers are working to hear from agency leaders about what budget cuts will look like over the next year. 

Democratic Representative Sonya Williams-Barnes of Gulfport is the Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. She says the hearings will help lawmakers understand the consequences of their actions.

“There have been those of use who have been left out of the process, and we aren’t aware,” says Williams Barnes. “Also to make our constituents aware of what’s going on.”

Many state agency leaders are also concerned about the implementation of the Budget Transparency and Simplification Act. It prevents billing or transferring money from one agency to another.

State Health Officer, Doctor Mary Currier says she’s not sure if it’s legal to charge Medicaid for services provided at county heath departments.

“We were concerned with Senate Bill 2362, that we would not be able to send or receive money from Medicaid for services in our clinics,” says Currier. “If we don’t get Medicaid funds for our services, that’s $20 million and we’d have to close our clinics.”

Currier also points out that budget cuts have already forced the department to layoff workers and shutter several health department clinics.