Clyburn to push Medicaid expansion in series of town halls

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House is embarking on a listening tour to talk up the Biden administration’s federal aid package and push for Medicaid expansion in states that have not taken that step.

On a Thursday call with reporters, U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn laid out his “Help is Here” town hall tour, which will focus on rural and low-income communities in his native South Carolina. Kicking off Tuesday in Ridgeland, he’ll make stops in Manning, North Charleston, Santee and Hopkins over the following week.

Throughout the state, Clyburn said he will be highlighting the benefits of the American Rescue Plan, signed into law in March by President Joe Biden. That includes an expanded child tax credit that will pay out up to $300 per month for qualified parents.

Clyburn said representatives from the Internal Revenue Service will be on hand at the events to answer questions. Also at the town halls, Clyburn said that community health center workers will be available to provide COVID-19 vaccines for those who are eligible.

“All of us are aware of how catastrophic COVID-19 has been to rural and low-income communities,” Clyburn said. “And what we have seen in the Biden administration is a very comprehensive program to build back better.”

Also on Clyburn’s agenda is his argument for the need to close gaps in Medicaid services. A dozen Republican-led states, including South Carolina, have resisted expanding coverage under a key provision of former President Barack Obama’s health care law, which was recently upheld by the Supreme Court for the third time in a decade.

The financial incentives that are included in the Biden administration’s nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill have proved to be a hard sell, according to a survey by The Associated Press. Some Republicans in those states have softened their opposition, while key gatekeepers — governors or legislative leaders — indicate they have no plans to change course.

“Gov. McMaster isn’t for sale, regardless of whatever ill-conceived ‘incentives’ congressional Democrats may come up with,” spokesman Brian Symmes told the AP earlier this year. “What the federal spending plan does is attempt to offer a short term solution for a long term problem.”

Under the enticement included in the coronavirus relief bill, the federal government would boost its share of costs in the regular Medicaid program, which offers coverage for the poorest Americans. The bump in federal funding would last two years for the states that join the Medicaid expansion and comes on top of a 90% federal match for the costs of covering the newly insured through the expansion.

A handful of states are taking action. Oklahoma began its expansion on Thursday. In Missouri, voters approved an expansion but GOP legislators balked at funding it, and a judge last month ruled that the ballot question there was unconstitutional.

Clyburn said Thursday that he had been working on another way to implement expansion in the remaining states, without giving details.

“I’m going to be working here in the Congress, over the next several months, to try to get the federal work-around in those states that refuse to expand Medicaid,” Clyburn said. “We’ve been working on it for some time now, and I think that we’re beginning to get some traction.”

Meg Kinnard can be reached at