Thousands of Louisiana eviction warnings sent

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EDITOR'S NOTE: The headline of this story was changed from its original form to better represent the nature of the notices sent, which were fully described in the body of the article.

Louisiana officials on Thursday mailed notices of potential evictions to 37,000 Medicaid beneficiaries who could soon lose coverage, including at least 19,000 who might be forced out of nursing homes if the state's budget impasse continues.

Even before the letters reached their recipients, calls began pouring into a Department of Health call center that extended its hours to address concerns of worried residents and their family members.

Others are taking their complaints straight to legislators, who failed during a special session in February to create new revenue streams the state's governor says are required to make up for $1.4 billion in short-term taxes that end June 30.

A petition started by a Louisiana social worker to pressure lawmakers to avoid the nursing home evictions had more than 12,000 signatures by Thursday afternoon.

More than 80% of the state's nursing home residents could be evicted if the state ends an expansion program that allows those with limited annual incomes of up to $2,250 to also receive Medicaid.

State Republicans have criticized the letters about potential cancellation as premature “fear-mongering.”

“The decision by the governor and this administration to give eviction notices to the elderly population of Louisiana, without question, is a political move. It's egregious in my personal opinion,” said House GOP leader Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), according to the Associated Press. “We don't even know what the Senate is going to do yet.”

State officials say the law requires them to issue notice of potential evictions in advance so that beneficiaries can make alternate plans. Evictions could be triggered July 1, if the state can't come to a budget agreement that restores Medicaid funding.

“We're at a place we didn't want to be,” Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said at a press conference Thursday afternoon. “It's scary, but it's not a tactic.”

He added that unresolved budget issues could also force the closure of state-affiliated hospitals and medical schools.

He defended the letters' necessity, considering that the Legislature failed to reach any resolution in February and is not allowed to discuss budget issues during its regular 2018 session. He said current plans are to adjourn the current session early, then he will call lawmakers back for a special session around May 22.

That would give both sides about a month to iron out an eviction-avoiding deal.