This Week Under the Gold Dome: Budget Week

Welcome back to This Week Under the Gold Dome, our weekly rundown of events at the Capitol and here in the Athens community.

Spencer Hosts Affordable Care Act Enrollment Event:

Spencer’s vision of a stronger Georgia begins with you and the community he serves. Representative Frye never loses sight of this vision while working for our district at the Capitol, and he returned home to Athens on Tuesday to help our community learn more about the Affordable Care Act and how to enroll in health insurance through the new marketplaces.

The new health care options can seem like a challenging task to understand. However, you are not alone in figuring out the plan that is best for you and your family. Spencer was accompanied by two health care navigators who helped him explain the details of the program. Navigators help you look for health coverage options. They can also help you complete eligibility and enrollment forms. Their services are free to consumers. Click here to find a Navigator near you. Almost 426,000 Georgians have gained access to health insurance during the ACA’s first two open enrollments, the fourth highest enrollment nationwide.

Additionally, it is important to remember the deadline to sign up is February 15, 2015. The penalties for not signing up before this date are fees of either 2% of your income or $325 per adult/$162.50 per child, whichever is more.

The assistance health insurance can provide for your family goes beyond covering health care costs. Representative Frye said:

“When you have to take your child to the emergency room and you don’t have health insurance, not paying those bills affects your credit. Your car insurance increases. The interest rate when you need to buy a car increases. Your ability to rent a house or apartment goes down, meaning you can’t even choose a quality place in which you want your kids to grow up. You have to come up with more money to pay for your bills and all that does is push the family further down into a hole.”

“When someone visits a doctor they may be going for a hurt arm or a cold. But in the back of their head, they are making an effort to live longer, to extend their life… the right to health care is the right to life,” Frye said.

Spencer cares about the challenges your family faces, and you are who he is working for as a member of the Health and Human Services Committee.

Budget Hearings:

During the 40 days members of the Georgia General Assembly are at the Capitol, thousands of bills will pass over their desks. However, they are only technically required to do one thing: pass the budget.

Before Spencer and the other members of the legislature can do anything to the budget, the governor’s office makes an estimate of the revenues the state will receive in the next fiscal year. The legislature cannot give any more money to the various departments than the governor has estimated. The General Assembly is working with $21.8 billion this year. Budget revenues have grown since last year, but the Georgia budget is still at prerecession levels.

Moreover, even though there is more revenue projected for the 2016 budget, it is not being used to make up for the real dollar funding cuts to education that occurred during the budget shortfalls of the economic crisis. Many new revenue dollars will go towards enrollment growth which is the growth in numbers of K-12 students. Although the current budget proposal claims $280 million more for education, it has not made up for the first cut they made to our state’s most valuable resource: our children.

Representative Frye said, “I would like to see us as a legislature be able to review special interest tax credits to see if we could free up money in the budget which we could allocate to public school education hopefully achieving three things: full school calendars returning back to 180 days, cutting out all furlough days for teachers, and paying teachers what they deserve for the work they do.”

The figures in the budget are not just numbers on a page. They represent the students and their teachers in our community.

“In my experience with the teachers in the Athens community, I see how many of them spend their own money for the benefit of their students,” Representative Frye said. “It has prompted me to look into crafting legislature for a state tax deduction for teachers who spend money on their own classrooms, mirroring the federal policy.”

But the school down the road from your home has other employees in addition to teachers working for our children’s future. The proposed budget would eliminate health care benefits for employees who work less than 30 hours a week including bus drivers and cafeteria workers. The governor’s office said this would eliminate coverage for about 11,500 noncertified school employees.

Our children’s education can suffer no longer due to budget cuts, and Representative Frye is committed to working for our students and all the employees who dedicate their lives to the future of Georgia.