Gov. Mike Parson called an extraordinary session to consider a supplemental budget for the 2021 fiscal year last month, intending to offset funding withheld earlier this year in the face of the pandemic.
Missouri was granted $3.06 billion in CARES Act funds, and the supplemental budget is intended to distribute the remaining $1.2 billion.
“We still have CARES Act funding that needs to be distributed, which is why today I am calling a special session on a supplemental budget,” Parson said. “It contains funding for several items including school nutrition service programs, job training grants, emergency solutions grant programs for homelessness prevention, a domestic violence grant, and child support payments.”
Rep. Kip Kendrick, who serves as the ranking minority member on the House Budget Committee, said the additional session would allow the state to get the most out of the federal grants.
“We were in the eleventh-hour of crafting the budget on the House side when the pandemic set in,” Kendrick told The Missouri Times. “By the time we got back to the Capitol to craft the budget, it was rushed. We tried to do the best we could in the time we had, but this is a chance to ensure that we have what we need as a state and a chance to spend this federal money according to the government’s guidance.”
Parson sent his list of specific recommendations to the General Assembly ahead of the first day of session. With the House expected to handle its side of the supplemental budget session this week and the Senate tentatively scheduled to consider bills later this month, here’s a look at the governor’s recommendations and how the scope of the session could potentially expand.
The governor’s plan primarily earmarked funds for Missouri’s COVID-19 response and related expenses incurred in the wake of the pandemic.
Around $140 million in federal funds was requested to go to the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). The department would receive the funds for contact tracing, testing, prevention strategies, and training for staff.
More than $75 million was requested for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to support its school lunch programs. The governor also recommended more than $250,000 to boost the department’s Missouri Healthy Schools Program, which provides training to school professionals and promotes nutrition policies.
Additionally, $34 million is earmarked for the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to support its Shared Work Unemployment Compensation Program, and more than $23 million was suggested for the Department of Economic Development to go toward workforce development, infrastructure, and grants for small businesses.
The Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development would receive $1.3 million for job training programs under the plan while $155,000 would go toward a grant for domestic abuse shelters. Parson recommended $96,000 to be earmarked for child support.
Beyond COVID-19, the plan suggested the use of general revenue and federal funds to finance the Pretrial Witness Protection Fund, which advanced to the governor’s desk earlier this year without a funding source attached. The fund would receive $2 million under the governor’s request, with half coming from the state’s supplemental general revenue and the rest from the Federal Victims of Crime Fund.
Parson said he would consider expanding the call to include COVID liability if the General Assembly had a plan in place.
“If the legislature is willing, I think the legal liability issue should be front-and-center in this state,” Parson has said. “I definitely would consider that if both bodies come together and say they have a plan in place. If we can work together to get that done, I’m open to that.”
House Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo sent a letter to Parson requesting the expansion of the call in order to protect small businesses that had not reopened “because of the threat of litigation tied to COVID-19.”
Republican Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin also voiced her support for the expansion. Parson said his team would be in contact with legislators over the possibility as the session continues.