Budget plan could zap medical benefits for nearly 8,000 Missourians | St. Louis Post-Dispatch

By Kurt Erickson St. Louis Post-Dispatch

JEFFERSON CITY • Nearly 8,000 nursing home residents and Missourians who receive in-home care may no longer qualify for state assistance later this year under the latest budget proposal advancing in the Capitol.

On a day when a report showed growth in state tax revenues slowing in April, negotiators in the House and Senate moved to raise the threshold needed to qualify for state medical assistance. Deeper cuts to reimbursement rates to nursing homes and in-home caregivers also were approved.

The state would save millions of dollars by tightening eligibility for Medicaid services, but it could mean job losses from the closure of nursing homes and more elderly and disabled overwhelming hospital emergency rooms, where treatment is more expensive.

The proposal, which now heads to the full House and Senate, was called necessary after the GOP-controlled Senate failed to repeal a tax credit for elderly renters that would have freed up enough money to offset cuts first floated by Gov. Eric Greitens in his February budget address.

“This is just bad, really bad,” said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis.

But, said House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, “Our job is to pass a balanced budget.”

Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, said senators could reverse the reductions if they were to repeal the tax credit in the waning days of the legislative session.

The cuts in spending came as the Legislature scrambled to put the finishing touches on a $27.8 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

They have until 6 p.m. Friday to get a final document on the governor’s desk or face the prospect of a special session.

The push to finish came amid news that revenue growth had slowed in April.

Fiscal year-to-date revenue collections increased 3.1 percent compared to the same period last year. That’s a drop from the growth rate through March when tax money flowing into the state’s general checkbook showed an increase of 4.3 percent.

Budget writers have based spending on the state’s proposed budget on a 3.8 percent growth rate.

For Republicans in the House, the cornerstone of their budget plan is fully funding the state’s school aid formula. The Senate initially balked at the additional cost, but rank-and-file Republicans and Senate Democrats overruled GOP leaders and joined the House in boosting funds for schools by more than $40 million over what Greitens had sought.

But reaching a final agreement on other big ticket items has been elusive.

Although Greitens delayed the release of his budget plan by two weeks, much of the holdup has centered on dysfunction in the Senate, where daily meltdowns have become commonplace, leaving hundreds of pieces of legislation in limbo as the May 12 session deadline draws nearer.

Sens. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, and Shalonn “Kiki” Curls, D-Kansas City, launched into an impromptu a cappella rendition of “Kumbaya” Wednesday morning, hoping to bring peace to the chamber.

“We have eight days. The people don’t want us to point fingers,” said Dixon.

But in a sign any truce might be short-lived, Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, threatened to tie up the Senate if her legislation helping homeowners living near the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton wasn’t sent to the governor.

She may be unhappy no matter what. The budget proposal calls for $1 million in state buyout assistance for homes in the Spanish Village subdivision. She had initially sought $12 million, but agreed to reduce the amount to $3 million in the Senate budget proposal.

The budget plan, meanwhile, includes no tax increases and no general wage increases for most state workers, who are the lowest paid in the nation.

The two chambers also agreed to make equal reductions to all state institutions of higher education of 6.5 percent. Earlier versions had the four-campus University of Missouri System losing as much as 9 percent of its core state funding.

Nasheed lashed out at a plan to cut $1 million for graduate programs at Harris-Stowe State University.

“This to me seems like there has been an attack on one of the historically black colleges,” Nasheed said. “It’s racist to me.”

The latest version also reverses a $31 million cut to the Missouri State Employee Retirement System that the House had proposed.

The budget blueprint also cuts eight administrative law judges who oversee worker compensation cases at the Department of Labor. It also reduces inspectors for prevailing wage laws.

On transportation funding, the measure includes no significant increase in money for road and bridge upgrades, but it does ban spending on the development of toll highways.

It also eliminates grants for drunk driving checkpoints. The cut brought a swift rebuke from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

“Using the budget to eliminate a proven countermeasure against drunk driving is disgraceful,” said MADD National President Colleen Sheehey-Church.



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