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

Mental health check with student before back to school starts
Mental health check with student before back to school starts(WAFF)
Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 7:12 AM EDT
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ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced Tuesday he would allot $125 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to expand school-based health centers.

It’s the latest move by Kemp to spend federal money as he runs for reelection 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 in line with our ongoing efforts to lower costs and increase access to quality healthcare coverage for everyone — especially those in rural Georgia — without assigning an unfair price tag to taxpayers,” Kemp said in a statement.

Democrats attack Kemp for doling out the money even as he opposed the passage of some COVID-19 relief bills passed by Congress. He’s also declined to seek the expansion of state-federal Medicaid health insurance to cover all adults.

“Kemp should stop trying to claim credit for money he fought in the first place,” said Abrams spokesperson Alex Floyd. “If Kemp wants to invest in public education, it’ll take more than election-year gimmicks.”

The state Department of Education will give out grants of up to $1 million apiece to start health centers that will care for students, and in some cases, community members. The idea is to aid 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 would “support students by removing a primary learning barrier, access to healthcare.”

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

The state department said it’s working on a time frame to award the grants, which would pay for additions, renovations, supplies and personnel. There are currently about 100 school-based health centers in Georgia, usually operated as a partnership between the school district and a federally qualified health care center.

The $1 million is significantly higher than the $200,000 federal grants made by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in May to strengthen school-based health centers. Two federally qualified health centers in the state, East Georgia Healthcare Center in Swainsboro and Medlink Georgia in Colbert got those grants.

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