Missouri will no longer be allowed to participate in a federal housing program after state lawmakers changed the state’s anti-discrimination law this year, according to a letter from federal officials.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sent state officials a letter in July informing them that Gov. Eric Greitens’ decision to sign Senate Bill 43, which critics say weakens the state’s anti-discrimination protections, put the state out of compliance with the Fair Housing Assistance Program.
Missouri has until March 2018 to get back into compliance with the program, which requires that states have anti-discrimination laws substantially similar to the federal Fair Housing Act, according to the July 14 letter sent by HUD to the Missouri Commission on Human Rights.
The law makes it more difficult for workers to bring discrimination lawsuits against employers.
Non-compliance puts $500,000 in federal funds in jeopardy, according to Missouri House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, a Kansas City Democrat. The letter was not publicized until McCann Beatty’s office obtained the letter from HUD this week.
McCann Beatty said that opponents of the bill raised concerns about the potential impact to the federal housing program when “when we were debating the bill in the first place and were basically dismissed.”
The letter from HUD instructs state officials that until Missouri is back in compliance, it will not refer any housing discrimination cases to the state commission. The state commission also is required to inform potential claimants of their right to pursue cases with the federal agency directly.
The Missouri Department of Labor, which serves as the commission’s parent agency, released a statement Thursday night confirming that officials from HUD “believe that changes to the Missouri Human Rights Act contained in Senate Bill 43 could leave Missouri unable to qualify to administer one housing investigatory program.”
However, the state agency said that since receiving the letter it has “been working with HUD to clear up any apprehension on their part. These conversations are ongoing. In the meantime, no Missourian is losing any services.” The Labor Department also added that the “vast majority of Missouri's dealings with HUD, and with the federal government as a whole, are in no way impacted by this issue.”
The agency’s statement did not address why the letter had not been made public months ago. Greitens’ office also did not comment on why the letter and the potential loss of federal funds was not made public in July.
“It’s unfortunate that the governor did not see fit to inform his constituents about it when they first found out,” McCann Beatty said.
Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican, called for swift action to address the issue on social media.
“This is terrible,” Silvey said on Twitter. “We were told SB43 mirrored Fed rules, not violated them. We need to fix this ASAP!”
SB 43’s passage also prompted the NAACP to issue a travel advisory about Missouri, the only one in the nation, earlier this year.
Sen. Gary Romine, the Farmington Republican who sponsored the bill, could not immediately be reached by phone.