OBVIOUSLY IT WAS TIME FOR ANOTHER miracle in Massachusetts, but the state seemed to be out of hats, not to mention rabbits. For months Gov. William Weld and 200 legislators had been wrangling over ways to slash the state’s projected $460 million deficit. Blood was in the aisles. That’s when Kathy Betts, 38, a part-time employee in the Department of Public Welfare, had her inspiration. While poring over complex federal rules governing medicaid reimbursement, she discovered that by combining several of the regulations the state could be eligible for hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funds. Early this month, after the federal government reluctantly agreed to fork over $489 million, the delighted Betts found herself hailed as a savior. “I’m really just the average woman struggling to do as much as she can in a day,” says Betts, who lives with her husband and their two children in suburban Mansfield, Mass. “Moms do so much more nowadays.”
There is no overstating what Betts accomplished. According to one grim scenario, the state would have been forced to borrow heavily and hike taxes if she hadn’t come up with the money. Betts has been praised wherever she goes by grateful citizens, and Governor Weld is no less effusive. “She hit the ball out of the park,” he declared, and he promised Betts a $10,000 bonus, even if he had to pay it out of his own pocket. But the most heartfelt congratulations came from Betts’s daughter, Brooks, who made up a sign that said, YOU ARE A STAR.
The federal government was less enthusiastic. “The feds went down kicking and screaming,” said Betts, who maintains she wasn’t exploiting loopholes, merely getting money to which her state was entitled—and which is needed to maintain vital services. “This money is used to pay hospitals for free care, for people who have no health insurance,” says Betts.
Betts inherited her love of public service from her parents. Her mother, Rita, was a social worker before quitting to raise Kathy and two sons. Her father, James, worked for the welfare department in New Bedford, Mass., for 25 years. “We’d get calls at home and on weekends and holidays,” recalls Betts. “Someone would be without food or housing, and he’d go out to take care of it.” At Boston College, Betts got her degree in sociology and psychology and met her future husband, James, now 38 and a bank examiner for the Federal Reserve in Boston.
In the wake of her triumph, Betts has no plans to go full-time at the welfare department, preferring to share her job with another woman so that she can spend more time with her family. What if another state tried to lure Betts away to work her magic there? “Over my dead body!” declared Governor Weld. “They’d never take her alive.”
S. AVERY BROWN in Boston