Naked City

TDH 'Borrows' From Sick Kids

The battle of several Democratic lawmakers, led by Reps. Garnet Coleman of Houston and Elliott Naishtat of Austin, to force the Texas Dept. of Health to spend money in its budget already dedicated to children with special health care needs took an interesting turn last week.

The program is intended to serve a relatively small number of children (about 2,750) without health insurance but with an urgent need for care for heart problems or illnesses such as cerebral palsy and epilepsy. The program has a budget "surplus" of $12.8 million dollars (including $4.8 million in federal money) because the TDH froze spending and created a waiting list of 1,500 children. Coleman insists the 2001 law requires the agency to spend all the money on sick children, but agency heads said they could not do so without approval of current budget committees, which want to roll the "surplus" into next year's budget deficit.

Last week, the San Antonio Express-News acquired TDH memos showing that the agency believed the money, both federal and state funds, must be spent as originally budgeted -- but decided instead to seek a waiver allowing federal funds to be spent while moving state funds into other programs. The TDH, at the behest of the GOP leadership, has since released federal funding to serve 150 children, but still wants to hold the state funds for deficit reduction. Coleman said the memos confirm that the law requires all the money be spent on sick children, and called on the agency to release the funds. "At best, [the TDH action] is borrowing," Coleman said. "At worst, it's stealing the children's money."

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