HOUMA, LA (WVUE) - Funding cuts to the Department of Health and Hospitals, higher ed and K-12 programs add growing concern to the future of the TOPS program and the possibility of shutting down two hospitals in our area.
"I am working very hard to find other ways to fund them," Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
Edwards presented his proposed budget with more than $790 million in cuts to deal with the state's budget shortfall Tuesday in front of the House Appropriations Committee.
With the proposed cuts, four hospitals around the state would lose funding, essentially shutting them down. Our Lady of the Angels Hospital in Bogalusa and the Leonard Chabert Medical Center in Houma are included in those slated to possibly close.
"We sent out an S.O.S. last time to save our system and that's the same way we're standing here now. We cannot afford to close this hospital," Terrebonne Parish Councilwoman Arlanda Williams said.
She understands the reality of the state's budget crisis, but she also warns shutting down the Chabert Medical Center puts a large number of citizens at risk of not getting proper health care.
"This hospital does not just service Terrebonne. You have St Mary, Lafourche, St. John's, St Charles and even some of Jefferson that feed to this hospital. So to close this hospital is not just an effect on Terrebonne Parish, it's an effect on the bayou region," Williams said.
Higher ed saw $48 million in cuts to universities. The TOPS program got $50 million of additional funding, but that still leaves the program drastically underfunded.
"I am optimistic but the universities are going to have to understand that they're gonna have $40 million less and then more importantly a 62 percent cut to TOPS," Commissioner of Higher Ed Dr. Joseph Rallo said.
At the current budgeted amount for TOPS, students getting an ACT of 26 or higher would get funding and more than 30,000 students who qualified for the program would be left without TOPS funding even if they have already gotten TOPS before, according to Dr. Rallo.
"I'm also realistic. I mean these are the numbers we have to live with," Dr. Rallo said. "The governor also mentioned today during his testimony to appropriations that there will be a special session likely the minute after the current session ends. At that point in time, it's a matter of will there be additional revenue generated and will it be directed toward higher ed."
There is a bill making its way through state legislature that would give an equal amount to all students who qualified for TOPS instead of leaving students out since the program is not fully funded. But that would mean students would only receive partial funding if that legislation is passed.