July 6, 2010; Source: Washington Post | Bureaucratic foot-dragging usually causes headaches, but snafus in Virginia and Washington, D.C. might result in a lot of toothaches instead. The Virginia Health Care Foundation submitted a proposal 6 months ago to use $5 million from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Fund (TANF) so some 7,000 uninsured residents could receive dental care.

The TANF money was paid to the state as a block grant established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and in order to use some of the funds for dental care, the Virginia Department of Social Services had to receive an O.K. from the federal department of Health and Human Services (HHS). However, approval from HHS didn’t come until June 16—too late for the foundation. Under rules controlling the use of the funds, all money has to be spent before a September 30 deadline set by Congress. The foundation says that’s not enough time to set up appointments and complete dental work on uninsured patients.

With only 90 days before the deadline, Deborah Oswalt, executive director of the foundation, said, “It really just doesn’t provide sufficient time to do it.” State officials blamed the delay on their end due to the time it took to review the foundation’s proposal along with a dozen others. They also speculate that HHS’ lack of experience with these kinds of requests also contributed to the lengthy approval process.

Dental care advocates hope that Congress will extend the deadline for using the money. Most feel the chances of that happening are slim due to a still-sputtering economy, fears of a deficit, and seemingly intractable unemployment. Dental care, says Oswalt, is “not something that seems to be on anyone’s radar right now.”—Bruce Trachtenberg