Support for the disabled and elderly in jeopardy

  

By Helena Webb

The MO 2017 budget approved by the Governor included a cut to reimbursements for the care of foster children. There was public outcry, and the Governor found the money, calling the cut “a mistake”. In a lovely letter I received from the Governor’s wife, she said that the Governor’s team “went to work and has found the money to make this right.”

I’m wondering where the Governor found this money. What has he cut from the approved budget instead? She did not say.

She also said in her letter, “The state should not take money from [foster children] or from their families even in tough budget times.”

Tough budget times. Missouri’s tough budget times have been caused by a huge corporate tax revenue shortfall. The cuts to services have been staggering. Some people think “social services” means food stamps or money going to people who are lazy. But that’s not what they are. They are services that are as necessary to people across Missouri as water or electricity. In the case of health care, they literally mean life or death.

State budget aside, lots of people in Missouri are having a tough time. Veterans, the disabled, and the elderly will have an even tougher time because the Governor vetoed House Committee Bill 3.

The story behind HCB3 is an interesting one. For those who do not know, there are something called 469 accounts in the state government, which are like piggy banks for government departments. When a department doesn’t spend all of its allocated funds each year, the extra money apparently doesn’t go back into the state budget, but into one of these accounts. Because of the inexperience of so many representatives due to term limits, most people had forgotten about these accounts.

The original HCB3 was going to remove the so-called “Circuit Breaker”, thereby denying low-income seniors who rent their homes of this modest but useful Circuit Breaker tax credit. The savings there would be used to pay for in-home care for low-income seniors. Kind of like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Either way you look at it – it was an increase in costs to already poor older people. Increasing costs to cash-strapped seniors didn’t sit well with Democrats like Deb Lavender or with many Republican representatives, but the bill was signed and went to the Senate.

According to Rep. Lavender, that’s when she had an idea and started investigating the rumored 469 accounts. Eventually she found that these accounts do exist, and that there were $3.6 BILLION dollars lying UNUSED in these accounts. That’s BILLIONS of DOLLARS unused, building up for years.

The Senate took Lavender’s idea and crafted a stopgap to pull some funds from some of the accounts – just enough to make up for the 2017 budget cuts to in-home services to the veterans and disabled  – and used the 469 funds, leaving the circuit breaker in place and paying for the in-home care for the disabled.

The bill was passed by the Senate with bi-partisan approval. Rep. Lavender is quoted as saying “it was probably the most bi-partisan bill to come out of the Missouri Senate in years.”  It then went back the House where it passed again. This is a major accomplishment for our representatives on both sides of the aisle.

In “tough budget times” we need to be creative to help each other. HCB3 would have saved 8,000 people from losing their in-home services. These people are mostly low-income seniors and people who live with disabilities, who literally cannot get in or out of bed without this assistance and would otherwise be living in nursing homes at tax payer expense. Many of them do have jobs, but need help in order to be able to get ready to go to work.

Democrats and Republicans worked hard to pass this bill, but the Governor name-called this ingenious idea as a “trick.”

Why would the governor do this? Because it wasn’t his idea? Because he has plans for this money no one knows about? Why?

The Governor’s Veto means real people – good people who worked hard their whole lives, veterans, neighbors, who now cannot physically make it on their own without a bit of assistance each day – losing care. This literally means some people may die needlessly, or end up in nursing homes (which will cost tax payers more money than in-home services, by the way).

These cuts, in addition to provider cuts to nursing homes, pediatric home health cuts, and MO Rx cuts that will likely mean upwards of 60,000 people in Missouri will PAY MORE for their prescriptions, all ads up to disaster for the sick and elderly in our state.

Will we stand by and let this happen? A state Veto Session starts September 13th. Will the Legislature attempt to overturn the Governor’s callous veto in September during the Veto Session? I hope so. It is a bitter pill to swallow that we have provided tax cuts to corporations, no tax cuts to people, paid extra payroll for special legislative sessions, but will not pay for services to the disabled and elderly among us.

 

Helena Webb is a working mother who lives with her family in Ballwin, Missouri. A lifetime Democrat, she is especially interested in where her tax dollars go, and how healthcare issues and racial bias impact economic growth and prosperity, especially in Missouri.