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Fact Check: Is Hawaii Eligible for ‘Louisiana Purchase’ Provision as Claimed by Obama?

Morgen on March 18, 2010 at 6:00 am

One of the more notable exchanges during the President’s interview with Fox News today was when he surprisingly claimed that Hawaii was also eligible for additional Medicaid reimbursement funds under the much aligned “Louisiana Purchase” provision in the Senate health bill. The provision is related to disaster relief and the President’s assertion was that Hawaii is eligible due to a past earthquake. I suppose the President should be in a position to know whether this is true, but in looking at the relevant text of the Senate bill, and the facts surrounding the earthquake in question, I’m not so sure this is the case.

First, there was indeed a relatively significant earthquake in Hawaii in 2006 – magnitude 6.7 on the Richter scale. In fact, as chance would have it I was actually in Honolulu at the time for a friend’s wedding. The epicenter of the quake was a relatively uninhabited section of the Big Island, and fortunately there was no loss of life or even major injuries. However, there was some relatively significant damage to roads and structures, and economic disruption due to widespread power outages. (The only personal impact was an extra day in Hawaii due to the closure of the airport.)

Now here is how the Senate health bill defines eligibility for the Medicaid relief provision (Sec. 2006 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act):

(2) In this subsection, the term ‘disaster-recovery FMAP adjustment State’ means a State that is one of the 50 States or the District of Columbia, for which, at any time during the preceding 7 fiscal years, the President has declared a major disaster under section 401 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act and determined as a result of such disaster that every county or parish in the State warrant individual and public assistance or public assistance from the Federal Government under such Act…

President Bush and Obama declared many “major disasters” in the 7 years preceding the possible commencement of this bill, so the key provision is the one limiting applicability only to such states where the Administration determined that EVERY county or parish within the given state was eligible for public assistance from the Federal Government.

As a relatively small state Hawaii has only 5 counties:

  1. Hawaii County
  2. City/County of Honolulu
  3. Kalawao County
  4. Kauai County
  5. Maui County

Now here are the details of the disaster relief declaration from FEMA:

Disaster Summary For FEMA-1664-DR, Hawaii

Declaration Date: October 17, 2006

Incident Type: Earthquake

Incident Period: October 15, 2006

Individual Assistance
(Assistance to individuals and households):

Hawaii County

Public Assistance
(Assistance to State and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency work and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged facilities):

Hawaii, Maui Counties and City and County of Honolulu. (Categories C-G).

Debris removal and emergency protective measures (Categories A and B), including direct Federal assistance, for the counties of Hawaii, Honolulu, Kauai, and Maui, and the City of Honolulu.

Hazard Mitigation Grant Program
(Assistance to State and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for actions taken to prevent or reduce long term risk to life and property from natural hazards):

All counties in the State of Hawaii are eligible to apply for assistance under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.


Additional designations may be made at a later date after further evaluation.

I’ve highlighted what I assume is the key section in bold – notice anything missing? Kalawao County – on the small island of Moloka’i – is not included on this list. But here is where it gets a little interesting. Apparently Kalawao County is the 2nd smallest county in the U.S. (only an est. 117 residents in 2008), and was originally founded as a leper colony.  Notably, however, it is officially recognized as a county by the federal government (or at least the Census bureau). Thus it’s omission would seem to be an automatic disqualifying factor based on the text of the Senate bill.

Even more significantly, it looks like the fact that Kauai County was only designated for public assistance under “Categories A and B” may also be a disqualifying factor . Why? Because if this distinction is not a disqualifying factor, then Mississippi would also fall under the provision of the Senate bill. As you can see by this map, every county in Mississippi was declared eligible for public assistance after Hurricane Katrina, but 8 of the counties were designated for “category A & B” assistance only. (You can see the report in text format here.)

So presumably this distinction between categories is what made Mississippi ineligible for the “Louisiana Purchase” when this provision was first inserted into the bill, and then reported in the media. It is a pretty sure bet that given all the media attention and controversy over this, that it would have been reported if Mississippi was also eligible.

So given all available facts it sure looks to me like the President’s assertion on Fox News was not true, and that Louisiana remains the only state eligible for this payoff. Either that or the bill is about to get even more expensive in adding not only Hawaii to the mix, but Mississippi as well.

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Category: Health & Education, Politics |

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