Despite budget cuts to most agencies, a taxpayer-funded nonprofit is still going to receive state funds after the Legislature voted to keep a $4.161 million earmark in the Medicaid appropriations bill last week.
The Delta Health Alliance is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit based in Stoneville and manages 52 education and healthcare programs in the impoverished Mississippi Delta.
House Bill 1713 went to conference, where the committee added some transparency-related language that will allow lawmakers to see how the DHA spends its money. Both chambers approved the conference report by large margins and Gov. Tate Reeves will sign it into law.
As for the Medicaid appropriation, taxpayers will be spending $6.11 billion in state and federal funds on the program, a $32 million cut from the pre-session recommendation. Only $899 million of that comes from state funds. The federal match for Medicaid has increased because of federal COVID-19 relief efforts from 80 percent to 83.2 percent.
On the Senate floor Sunday, state Sen. Angela Hill asked the chamber why there were cuts to the state’s military budget and other agencies, but yet funding for the DHA was preserved. DHA received a similar earmark in last year's Medicaid appropriation bill for the same project.
“We did want to tighten up the language, which is what we did in this bill, and look at some performance measures next year to make sure that the work they’re doing in the Delta, the funds they use, are well utilized and making a difference,” said state Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, about the bill on the Senate floor on Sunday.
The DHA will have to establish a separate account for the state funds, establish performance measures to be achieved by the state-funded programs and cooperate with any audits or evaluations of program activities.
The organization would have to submit an annual report to the Department of Medicaid that provides the number of persons served by DHA programs, the amount of funds expended, names of staff by position title and salary and names of contractors, amounts paid and description of services provided.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER Committee) would conduct an evaluation of the DHA by December 1, 2023 and every three years following. PEER would have access to all DHA records.
The earmark is intended for the Mississippi Delta Medicaid Population Health Demonstration project that uses information technology to help providers reduce preterm births and conditions that can lead to type II diabetes among the Medicaid population in a 10-county area in the Delta.
The executive director of Medicaid, Drew Synder, told the Legislature in a letter last year that he’d be unable to endorse the appropriation as a cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars because the demonstration project's aims were duplicative in nature.
DHA has received $14.7 million in state taxpayer funds for various projects since 2015. In 2018 and 2017, the majority of the nonprofit’s funds came from government grants.
The nonprofit was created in 2001 as a collaboration by the state's five public universities led by former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran to meet the healthcare and educational needs of the 18 counties in the Mississippi Delta region. The DHA was started with funding by earmarks from the late former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee