Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced on Tuesday that he would allocate $125 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to expand school health centers.
It’s Kemp’s latest move to spend federal money as he runs for re-election 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, particularly because Georgia law gives him sole control of federal funds.
“This innovative program is consistent with our ongoing efforts to reduce costs and increase access to quality health care coverage for everyone – especially those in rural Georgia – without placing an unfair price on taxpayers,” said Kemp in a statement.
Democrats are attacking Kemp for doling out the money even as he opposed passage of some COVID-19 relief bills passed by Congress. He also declined to seek expansion of federal-state Medicaid health insurance to cover all adults.
“Kemp should stop trying to claim the money he fought in the first place,” Abrams spokesman Alex Floyd said. “If Kemp is going to invest in public education, it will take more than election-year gimmicks.”
The state Department of Education will provide grants of up to $1 million each to start health centers that will serve students and, in some cases, community members. The idea is to help students succeed by improving their physical and mental health, as well as addressing their dental and vision needs.
Ashley Harris, who oversees school health centers for the Georgia Department of Education, said the money would “support students by removing a primary barrier to learning, access to health care.”
The new announcement will provide up to $1 million per project to schools that receive money from the federal government because a large portion of students come from poor families. There are over 1,500 Title 1 schools in Georgia.
The State Department said it was working on a schedule to award the grants, which would pay for additions, renovations, supplies and staff. There are currently about 100 school health centers in Georgia, usually operated in partnership between the school district and a federally licensed health care center.
The $1 million is significantly more than the $200,000 federal grant awarded by the US Department of Health and Human Services in May to strengthen school-based health centers. Two federally licensed health centers in the state, East Georgia Healthcare Center in Swainsboro and Medlink Georgia in Colbert, have won these grants.
Katie Byrd, spokeswoman for Kemp, said the governor’s office estimates $1 million will cover start-up costs and three years of operation. After that, the health center operator would have to maintain it based on other income. Because the federally funded children’s health insurance program, known in Georgia as PeachCare for Kids, covers many children, providers could claim insurance reimbursement for almost any student.
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