House and Senate remain at odds over senior services, Missouri’s disabled and elderly at risk

Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick speaks on HB 288, his bill on unemployment compensation.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – With less than 24 hours to come to an agreement on how to fund nursing care for roughly 8,000 elderly and disabled Missourians, it seems that the House and the Senate have reached an impasse.

The Senate, while working late last week to approve the state’s $27.8 billion budget, also passed HCB 3 with some revisions, creating a plan to sweep money from special state funds to raise the $35.4 million needed to avoid cuts to in-home and nursing home care. The Senate, in a rare moment of bipartisanship in the body this session, came together to restore the full funding for senior care services while also restoring half of the provider rate cuts.

“Too often, partisan gridlock derails good public policy,” Sen, Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, said. “But not this time. This time in the Missouri Senate, Republicans and Democrats came together and developed a simple solution to protect elderly Missourians and those with disabilities.”

They, then sent the bill to the House for approval, which is where it hit a major road block.

The issue at hand concerns the House’s latest attempt to solve the issue, in which Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick and the Republicans sought to replace the Senate’s plan by attaching their own solution to a bill on donations to soup kitchens and homeless shelters in the state.

According to Fitzpatrick, if the state hits their estimated revenue – an estimated 3.4 percent growth from last year – then that excess revenue would be used to restore the cuts to senior services and consumer care. Fitzpatrick says that the state is on track to hit that revenue goal, but other legislators note that there are no guarantees.

The Senate, however, sees things differently and made it known with an impromptu press conference late Thursday evening.

“The House refused to take up our position and is instead gambling on the backs of our senior citizens on a pipe dream which hopes that this money will be there,” Sen. Dan Brown, the Senate appropriations chair, said. “The Senate plan used money in from General Revenue, money that right now exists. The House is using phantom funds that are unrealistic and will never come to fruition. This position will hurt the most vulnerable, the elderly and the disabled in our state.”

Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, pulled no punches when discussing his thoughts on the plan, calling it “dumb.”

“I don’t believe it will work, I don’t think the funding will materialize,” Silvey said. “If HCB 3 dies, seniors in nursing homes and home care don’t get the funding that they need and the state keeps $200 million in the bank. And that’s pretty hard to justify that decision to the public. If I were in the position to make the decision, I would accept HCB 3.”

The way Fitzpatrick’s proposal is drafted, Silvey said, the state would actually have to collect $44 million more than the revenue estimate before any additional funds would go toward in-home and nursing home care.

There’s also some concerns about the Senate proposal being unconstitutional, with Fitzpatrick noting that each appropriation has to be made by the legislature, who would not be in session to do so.

But Silvey disagrees on that point, saying that the Senate’s position has been done before and proved to work, most recently in 2013. In that year, the legislature gave the State Treasurer the authority to deposit $55 million into the Missouri Senior Services Protection Fund.

Silvey also noted that the Consensus Revenue Estimate (CRE) for this year is $9.053 billion and that the amendment calls for $9.097 billion.

“For some reason, [it] requires $44 million over CRE before taking effect,” he said.

Fitzpatrick responded on social media, saying it “includes settlement and other collections, which are part of the revenue estimate on which the budget is built.”

Both chambers seem determined to withhold signing off on the other’s plan, and if a deal isn’t worked out before 6 p.m. Friday, then those 8,000 Missourians who currently receive state aid would be cut from that program.

“Hopefully the House will pass HCB 3 and not cut our seniors just so we can have a bigger number on the bottom line,” Silvey said.

Some members of the House also agree with the Senate position, with a small number of Democrats who served on the House Budget Committee attending the Thursday night press conference. Rep. Deb Lavender is one of those members and says she remains hopeful that the House will take up HCB 3.

“We seem to mistrust each other, but to mistrust the Senate’s appropriation and research staff… I’m concerned it will leave us with nothing,” Lavender said. “We’ve still got time to get this passed in the House, and I honor the budget chair for trying to make sure there’s money in the bottom line to pass a true budget, but this is taking excess money in funds and putting it into a line item that can help 8,000 seniors.

“It’s about priorities, and let’s hope this becomes one.”

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