The Missouri General Assembly is being asked to prepare for the possible return of unspent CARES Act funds held by counties and add almost $19 million to money available to prevent homelessness in the special session that begins today.
Gov. Mike Parson is also asking lawmakers to put $1 million in general revenue and $1 million in federal crime victim funds into the state’s new witness protection program, created during a previous special session.
Most of the money in Parson’s $1.3 billion spending plan is from the federal legislation approved by Congress in March that also provided stimulus payments to taxpayers and $600 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits.
Parson is proposing a $96.8 million appropriation to transfer child support debt intercepted from those payments to custodial parents who are due the money.
While most of the items in the proposal are “housekeeping” to align budget authority with available funds, the child support funding item is needed by the end of the month to keep the money flowing to families, said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby.
“Some of these items will run out of authority before the end of November, and so there is an urgency to act on it,” he said. “Those kids will be without the ability to utilize those funds and it’s rightfully theirs.”
The details of Parson’s proposals were provided to The Independent on Wednesday. Lawmakers on appropriations panels received a draft bill and a spreadsheet explaining each item late Tuesday.
Lawmakers will return to Cole County, which has one of the state’s highest recent COVID-19 infection rates, amid daily statewide case counts and hospitalizations exceeding any previously seen in the pandemic.
Cole County had the state’s fourth-highest per capita infection rate during October and has the highest rate in the state for the first four days of November.
The lame duck session officially starts at noon, but only housekeeping functions needed to get the $1.3 billion supplemental spending bill to the House Budget Committee will be performed this week. The committee is tentatively scheduled to have a hearing on the bill on Monday, with Missouri House floor votes to follow Tuesday to send the spending plan to the state Senate.
The Senate schedule, assuming House action goes without delay, is to hold a committee hearing on Nov. 17 and floor debate starting Nov. 20, Hegeman said.
While most of the money to be appropriated is federal coronavirus relief that has a Dec. 30 spending deadline, the $18.7 million that will be added to $9.6 million in housing funds already appropriated can be used through Sept. 30, 2022, state Rep. Kip Kendrick, ranking Democrat on the budget committee, said Wednesday.
The Emergency Solutions Grant money will flow through the Missouri Housing Development Commission to local agencies that will provide individual help.
None of the original appropriation has been spent, and the commission, whose members include Parson, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Attorney General Eric Schmitt and state Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick, has no meetings scheduled.
The notes provided to lawmakers state the commission “already has a list of non-profit and Community Action Agencies prequalified to receive funding; they are just awaiting appropriation authority to make awards.”
It is unclear whether the limitation on changes to supplemental appropriations in place during a regular session will apply to the package proposed by Parson. The Missouri Constitution directs that lawmakers can’t act on their own spending initiatives until they have acted on a governor’s budget, except “emergency appropriations recommended by the governor.”
That will be a point of discussion during the House Budget Committee hearing, Kendrick said. The hearing will be held in the House chamber rather than a committee room to allow for social distancing.
“If anything changes on the House side it will be in budget,” Kendrick said.
Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, could not be reached Wednesday for comment on the spending proposals.
Parson called the special session on Oct. 21 and had given no indication until Tuesday how much money was to be spent.
That delay drew criticism last week from House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, who called on Parson to release the proposal in advance of the election to justify the first post-election lame-duck session in 50 years.
Legislators need time to review his plan for reallocating federal relief funds, she says. Full statement👇🏽 pic.twitter.com/IrQWeQo5fd
— Rebecca Rivas (@Rebeccarivas) October 30, 2020
The largest item is $752 million to allow the state to spend available CARES Act relief funds by the Dec. 30 deadline and, according to accompanying notes, prepare for “the possibility that some Missouri counties will return a portion of their (CARES Relief Fund) proceeds to the state to be repurposed for other uses.”
Counties with fewer than 500,000 people and St. Louis received $520.9 million of the state’s $2.1 billion in relief funds to cover extraordinary expenses, ranging from extra payroll to providing wifi to schoolchildren.
Some local health departments have complained that they have not received an adequate share of the funding, while counties have said demands for the money mean they must balance each item against several competing needs.
Other significant items in the supplemental bill include $75.7 million for school nutrition programs and $10 million in general revenue for the continuing work of the Missouri National Guard.