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Missouri Lawmakers Approve $6.2 Billion Plan To Help Fight Coronavirus

Haahr presiding over a nearly empty House chamber on April 8, 2020 as lawmakers vote in groups of four on the supplemental budget
Tim Bommel | Missouri House Communications
House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, called lawmakers into the chamber in groups of four to place their votes on the supplemental budget.

The Missouri Legislature on Wednesday approved $6.2 billion to fight the coronavirus statewide. 

The supplemental budget gives Gov. Mike Parson spending authority for the money, most of which comes from the federal government’s stimulus package. That money has yet to be doled out to states, and there is some speculation as to how it can be spent. 

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, said he expects the money, and further guidance, to be coming by the end of the month. 

“Local communities are really feeling the pinch in going through their reserves, and they’re really worried about running out of money, which is why it was essential for us to get down here and get this done, so we can have this quick turnaround when the federal money comes in,” said Rizzo. 

Because of the vagueness in rules attached to the federal dollars, lawmakers used what was referred to as a “belt-and-suspenders approach.” Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, said the measure was written in a way that allows for accommodations when the federal rules come down. 

“Being overly cautious about this so that we wouldn’t have to come back in for another supplemental budget to deal with some unforeseen circumstances,” said Hegeman. 

The Senate also added provisions to the budget bill to be able to better track the dollars being spent by the governor. Hegeman said they received commitment from the executive branch and the Office of Administration that they would provide monthly reports on where the money is being spent. 

Lawmakers say this budget is critically important to help slow the spread of COVID-19 across the state by giving local communities necessary funding. According to the plan, there will be $11 million for the state’s National Guard, $20 million in child care funding to ensure essential businesses can remain in operation, $20 million for treatment facilities and testing, $150 million for personal protective equipment, $600 million for field hospitals, and much more. 

The measure also includes $300 million for public schools and $200 million for higher education, but it also allows additional spending authority for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Higher Education if the federal government allows it. DESE would receive another $1.5 billion and DHE would receive an additional $304 million. 

Lawmakers also approved the Federal Reimbursement Allowance for the upcoming year, which is the federal match for Medicaid payments in Missouri. 

Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Columbia, gets temperature taken before entering the Capitol before lawmakers take a final vote on the supplemental budget.
Credit Tim Bommel | House Communications
Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Columbia, gets her temperature taken before entering the Capitol before lawmakers take a final vote on the supplemental budget.

It was hardly business as usual in the Capitol as House lawmakers entered the chambers in groups of four to ensure safe social distance. They also sat six feet apart in committee hearings. House members were instructed to listen from their offices until they were called into the chamber by House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, to vote on the supplemental budget. 

Medical staff took the temperatures of lawmakers and staff before Wednesday’s session and everyone on the floor wore face masks. 

However, Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said he expects lawmakers to return before the legislative session is set to end on May 15. The top priority will be the state’s estimated $30 billion budget. 

“We’ll work as diligently and as expeditiously as possible to get to a resolution on that,” Rowden said. “As to what the world looks like even next week, as far as if we’re here or not, I don’t know the answer to that question yet and probably won’t for another couple of days.” 

Nearly empty House chamber discussing supplemental budget on April 8, 2020
Credit Tim Bommel | House Communications
Leaders in the House discuss the supplemental budget, which includes billions for Missouri to fight the coronavirus, in a nearly empty chamber as other lawmakers listened from their office.

Lawmakers are under a constitutional deadline of May 8 to get the budget in place, but Rowden said there doesn’t appear to be any serious repercussions if that’s not achieved. 

“If we get a budget done by the close of the fiscal year and the beginning of the new fiscal year, I think we’re OK,” Rowden said. “What we don’t want to happen is for us to make logistical errors that end up being impactful on Missourians, whether state employees or anybody else.” 

Rowden said it is still possible to get the budget done by that deadline, but Parson has indicated that it’s likely a special session will be called sometime in June. The governor will need to put together new recommendations based on the economic effects of the coronavirus on the state before lawmakers can continue budget hearings. 

Members of the Democratic caucus say the only reason to head back to the Capitol should be COVID-19-related during this legislative session. 

“If we were to come back for anything other than coronavirus-related legislation, you are really putting people in a position where they’re having to make decisions on their health or policy,” said Rizzo.

Follow Jaclyn on Twitter: @DriscollNPR

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Jaclyn is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.