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Supplemental budget bill advances in the House

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The House Budget Committee voted unanimously to pass the major budgetary bill of the extraordinary session Monday evening. 

“Rules change frequently in pretty significant ways, but we’ve tried to do the best we can,” Office of Administration Budget Director Dan Haug said before the committee. “We were flying by the seat of our pants to get the budget passed in May, but we’ve learned a lot since then. We’re trying to figure out how to spend as much of what we have as we can before it’s gone.”

The committee voted to pass HB 14 after nearly five hours of discussion from the House floor Monday, adding a single amendment to clarify language and streamline data. 

Haug addressed the committee for half the afternoon before executive discussion on the bill began, outlining the state’s CARES Act expenditures so far and how the budget will work moving forward. He then went item-by-item on the bill, fielding questions from lawmakers on past and future funding and the specifics of each allotment. 

Rep. Peter Merideth provided most of the feedback on the floor throughout the afternoon, inquiring about daycare providers and the extent of certain provisions contained in the bill.

“A lot of these daycare providers are faced with dramatically lower enrollment every month because of the virus,” he said. “Will this money be used to bridge the gap between what they used to make and what they make now?”

Haug said the federal guidelines for the funding were malleable and daycares and institutions of higher learning may be able to claim a loss of revenue as a reason to access funds. 

The committee also heard testimony from the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) on nursing home testing standards under state guidelines. Alex Tuttle of the department’s Office of Governmental Policy and Legislation said nursing homes could draw from a pot of $90 million in federal funds for reimbursement. 

“The Department of Health is working with each nursing home facility to acquire contractors and labs and set up testing at facilities,” he said. “They’re utilizing the $90 million to reimburse those testing costs.” 

HB 14 seeks to distribute the state’s remaining CARES Act funds to various state departments, including the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Higher Education, Office of Administration, and others. 

Gov. Mike Parson called the extraordinary session last month, tasking the General Assembly with creating a supplemental budget for the 2021 fiscal year to spend the state’s remaining $1.2 billion in CARES Act funds. The governor provided the legislature with a series of recommendations last week, which was folded into the budget bill. 

The bill includes a funding plan for the Pretrial Witness Protection Fund, which passed over the summer without a fiscal note. The fund would receive $2 million for the 2021 fiscal year, with half coming from general revenue and the remainder coming out of the Federal Victims of Crime Fund. 

The House is set to handle its side of the extraordinary session Tuesday. The Senate is expected to pick up the conversation later this month. 

Haug reminded lawmakers that the CARES funds must be used before Dec. 30 of this year.