What Happens To Seniors If No One Blinks?: Legislative Update

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri House and Senate members are in a stare-down over how to avoid budgeted cuts to personal care services for seniors and the disabled with less than a full day remaining in their annual legislative session.

Republican and Democratic senators held a joint news conference Thursday evening to denounce a House plan passed just hours earlier that depended on growth in state tax revenues in order to avert the cuts.

Senators called it “unrealistic” and “a pipe dream” and instead insisted that the House should consent to a Senate proposal that seeks to avoid the cuts by diverting millions of dollars from special funds dedicated to other purposes.

If neither side blinks before the 6 p.m. Friday deadline to pass bills, then the cuts included in the budget previously passed by lawmakers most likely would go forward when the new fiscal starts July 1. Both the budget and any bill to avoid the cuts would still need to be signed by Gov. Eric Greitens.

At issue is a budget item that would end Medicaid-funded in-home care and nursing home services for about 8,300 people by requiring them to show a greater level of disability to quality for the program.

The House originally sought to avoid those service cuts with money that would be saved by ending an income tax break for seniors and disabled people who rent homes. But the Senate refused to go along with that.

Instead, the Senate passed a measure last week that would authorize the state administration commissioner to take $35.4 million from various dedicated funds in order to maintain the current level of in-home and nursing services for seniors and disabled people.

The House has refused to take up that proposal.

House Budget Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick said Thursday that the fund sweep constituted “stealing” from other funds. His alternative, approved Thursday by the House, would need revenues to exceed projections by at least 3.44 percent to avoid the cuts. He said revenues are on pace to slightly exceed that threshold.

“I think that what we’ve provided here is an opportunity for these services to be funded without unbalancing the budget,” Fitzpatrick said.

But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Brown said the House plan is using “phantom funds that are unrealistic and will never come to fruition.”

“They’re gambling on the backs of our senior citizens on a pipe dream,” Brown said.

Democratic Sen. Kiki Curls, who is on the appropriations committee, backed up Brown while describing the House plan as “disingenuous.”

Lawmakers are wrestling over the 2018 budget cut because this year’s revenues have been growing at barely half the pace upon which the 2017 budget was based. Gov. Eric Greitens and former Gov. Jay Nixon have withheld a total of nearly $350 million in spending to keep the current budget in balance.

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