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Jackson: It’s not all Stroger’s fault

Thursday, January 25, 2007
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

PUSH didn’t come to shove Wednesday.
At least it didn’t come to shove Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.
The Rainbow PUSH Coalition, led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, had called a press conference “to discuss the disastrous impact of deep cuts to Cook County’s health-care budget,” and it was assumed the group would criticize Stroger, the man making those cuts.
Instead, Jackson deflected attention from Stroger, who is walking a tightrope of trying to keep his promise not to raise taxes this year while trying to keep happy his political base of black voters, many of whom will bear the brunt of health clinic closings.
“You cannot say this is Todd’s crisis,” said Jackson, speaking at Rainbow PUSH headquarters in the Hyde Park neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Jackson suggested that other parties, particularly the state, are also accountable for the county’s budget woes this year.
In particular, Jackson and Stroger insisted that the state is inappropriately keeping 65 percent of federal funding provided by the Benefits Improvement and Protection Act of 2000. The so-called BIPA funding, Jackson said, is supposed to go completely to public hospitals, and John H. Stroger Hospital is the only public hospital in the state.
However, Barry Maram, director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, took issue with Jackson’s assertion.
“They are not being shortchanged in any fashion,” Maram said
Maram noted that the county provides 4 percent of Medicare services in the state, but gets 16 percent of its funding. And, he said Cook County, under former president John H. Stroger, Todd Stroger’s father, signed an agreement to OK the 65-35 split.
To take away the state’s roughly $250 million of BIPA funds would only hurt Medicaid patients elsewhere in the state, he said.
One thing Maram, Jackson and Stroger do agree on, however, is the need to secure more funding from the federal government, where assistance has decreased during the Bush administration.
Jackson also called on the unions to make some concessions to lower costs for the county.
Not everybody thought Todd Stroger’s hands were clean, however.
While he agreed more state and federal funding is needed, the Rev. Marshall Hatch of New Mount Pilgrim Church on Chicago’s West Side, said it is ultimately Stroger who has dictated the cuts.
“Everybody doesn’t necessarily agree with letting the president off the hook,” he said.

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