Catania defends health care for illegal immigrants as Gray signals opposition

Catania defends health care for illegal immigrants as Gray signals opposition

May 05, 2012 — 7:43 PM, Alan Blinder, Examiner Staff Writer

A D.C. councilman’s plan to allocate an extra $20 million to health care for illegal immigrants — a move that defied Mayor Vincent Gray’s 2013 budget proposal — has drawn sharp criticism from the mayor’s office and set the stage for what could become a pitched battle between the city’s legislative and executive branches.

"We are seriously worried that the [at-large Councilman David] Catania plan takes critical money from one program and shuffles it to another program," Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro told The Washington Examiner. "He hasn’t found any new money. He’s just creating holes in other places."

In an internal memorandum obtained by The Examiner, city officials said Catania’s plan "selectively grabs ‘savings’ from line items in the Department of Health Care Finance’s budget."

But Catania said that wasn’t true.

"We have enough resources to provide decent health care to everyone who lives here," Catania said. "I believe very strongly that we ought not to treat immigrants differently than other residents of our city."

On Thursday, the council’s health committee, which Catania chairs, announced it had found enough money to provide hospital care to participants in the DC Healthcare Alliance, a city health insurance offering that mostly caters to illegal immigrants who aren’t eligible to participate in federal programs.

The panel said it balanced the program’s new budget by, in part, controlling personnel costs and correcting estimates for enrollment.

Confronted with another budget shortfall, Gray had proposed slashing the program’s funding and transferring more of the costs of caring for illegal immigrants to the federal government. But that plan, which Gray unveiled in March, drew quick criticism from Catania, along with a vow to restore the dollars.

Even though the council came under harsh criticism last week for failing to approve a plan to pay District workers for furlough days they were forced to take in 2011, one union leader said the decision to move forward with the health care funding didn’t bother him.

"I’m never going to pit employees and their concerns against other legitimate concerns," said Geo Johnson, the executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ affiliate in the District. "I don’t advocate that at all."

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