A budget deal struck last week to keep 8,000 elderly and disabled Missourians from losing in-home and nursing home care is in jeopardy.
The Missouri Senate voted last week to authorize a review of special state funds to find excess money that could be used to raise $35.4 million and avoid the cuts to in-home and nursing home care.
That differed greatly from the plan approved in the Missouri House, which paid for the program by ending a property tax credit for low-income seniors who rent their homes. Renters can qualify for the tax credit if their income is less than $27,500 a year if single or $29,500 a year if married. Roughly 100,000 Missourians take advantage of the credit, with the average credit being around $500.
House Budget Committee chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, a Shell Knob Republican, said the Senate bill needs more work. At his urging, the House declined to approve the legislation and instead has requested a conference with the Senate to strike a compromise.
The Senate voted Tuesday night to decline the House’s request to negotiate. And with the General Assembly constitutionally required to adjourn for the year by 6 p.m. Friday, the impasse has put the entire plan in danger.
“We are not a unicameral body,” said Rep. Justin Alferman, a Hermann Republican. “We are a bicameral body. Which means both the House and Senate have their say on the bill.”
The Senate plan — which was originally proposed last month by state Rep. Deb Lavender, a St. Louis County Democrat — has earned praise from disability advocates and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
“I applaud my colleagues for thinking out-of-the-box to find this solution,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, a Jefferson City Republican.
But House Republicans complained that the plan uses one-time money to fix an ongoing budget problem.
Fitzpatrick questioned whether the Senate plan is even constitutional, while others worried that the bill came together quickly in the middle of the night without working its way through the legislative process.
“The Senate did a god job of coming up with a great idea,” said Rep. Kathie Conway, a St. Charles County Republican, “but it needs to be vetted.”
The original budget plan, laid out by Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, would have saved $52 million by requiring people to display more severe disabilities to qualify for in-home care or nursing home services. The result would have been 20,000 people losing state aid.
The House and Senate worked out a compromise to reduce the number affected by the cut to 8,000. The rest of the cuts would be reversed if the Senate passed legislation eliminating the property tax credit for renters.
Democratic opposition to ending the tax credit caused the Senate to call an audible late Thursday night, approving the plan to sweep excess funds into in-home and nursing home care.
“At the end of the day, we have got to pass something to make sure that our elderly are not hurt,” said Rep. Tila Hubrecht, a Dexter Republican. “They cannot go get a job, they cannot take care of themselves. They need help.”