An effort failed Wednesday to override Gov. Eric Greitens’ veto of a bill aimed at reversing cuts in state aid for in-home and nursing care for 8,000 disabled Missourians, leaving Democrats demanding a special session to deal with the issue.
Greitens’ veto was ultimately upheld when only 49 of the 163 House members voted to override. Because the override failed in the House, the Senate can’t take it up.
The bill in question would have authorized a review of special state funds to find $35.4 million in excess money and avoid the cuts to in-home care.
Without that one-time funding fix, the $27 billion state budget changes eligibility requirements for Missourians to qualify for those services through Medicaid. Essentially, people would be required to display more severe disabilities to get state-funded care, a change that could eventually affect more than 8,000 Missourians.
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“Over the last five years, this body has cut more than $200 million out of our yearly budget by giving corporate tax breaks, and yet today we talk about how we don’t have money to care for our seniors,” said Rep. Deb Lavender, a St. Louis County Democrat.
Republican lawmakers said that even if the governor’s veto was overridden, it wouldn’t fix the funding problem. That’s because Greitens wouldn’t be required to shift the $35 million into in-home and nursing care. Greitens had originally called for an even deeper cut to the program that would have caused 20,000 elderly and disabled Missourians to lose state assistance.
Rep. Kevin Engler, a Farmington Republican, called Democrats’ pushing to override the governor “kabuki theater.”
“We have to come up with the money, not platitudes,” he said. “Not for show, but come up with the dough.”
Instead, Republican legislative leaders have asked state Sen. Mike Cunningham and House Budget Chair Scott Fitzpatrick to work together, and to work with their colleagues from both parties, to formulate a plan that could reverse the cuts. A plan will be presented within three weeks, and at that time a special session could be called to pass that plan.
“This bill is not an option,” said Fitzpatrick, a Shell Knob Republican. He later added: “I’ll give this issue my full attention. I will work on it tirelessly until such time in the next three weeks that we either have a solution or have a stalemate. I can’t guarantee you that all the objections can be overcome.”
Democrats argued that overriding Greitens’ veto would not mean lawmakers couldn’t come back into special session to come up with a more permanent solution.
“Let’s pass it and let the governor decide not to fund it,” said Rep. Peter Meredith, a St. Louis Democrat. “I have heard from constituents every day on this issue. I know everyone in this room has heard from their constituents, too. They are literally crying out for our help to do something about this, and our answer is we’re going to talk some more about it.”
The Missouri House originally tried to pay for in-home and nursing care by ending a property tax credit for low-income seniors who rent their homes.
But Democratic resistance in the Senate to ending the property tax credit forced legislators to come up with another plan. So instead they passed a bill that would have authorized a review of special state funds to find $35.4 million in excess money and avoid the cuts to in-home and nursing home care.
But Greitens vetoed the bill in June, calling it “an unconstitutional, one-time, fake fix to a real problem.”
The impact of the cut will not be felt all at once. The state will determine individuals’ eligibility for assistance during their annual re-assessment.
Disability advocates and critics of the governor’s veto say cutting funding that helps the disabled live independently is penny wise and pound foolish. As their help continues to deteriorate, the advocates say, Missourians affected by the reduction in state aid will simply end up in emergency rooms or nursing homes at an even greater long term cost to taxpayers.