COLUMBIA – Missouri House of Representatives candidates discussed state fiscal responsibility regarding social services Wednesday in a forum hosted by the Columbia Disability Issues Coalition.
Candidates running for House seats in the 9th, 21st, 23rd, 24th, and 25th districts attended the forum. The moderators were Aimee Wehmeier, executive director of Services for Independent Living, and Max Lewis, a disability advocate and member of the board for Services for Independent Living.
Wehmeier and Lewis asked the candidates questions relating to Medicaid coverage for people with disabilities, money spent for nursing homes and habilitation centers and expansion of special education.
The candidates also addressed questions about whether it would be more economical to provide people with disabilities home and community-based services rather than the more expensive options of nursing home or habilitation center care.
Laura Nauser, a Columbia Republican who is challenging 24th District incumbent Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said families and communities know the individual needs of people with disabilities best, so nursing homes are not the best option for state spending.
“I almost precisely agree,” Kelly said after Nauser's remarks. But he explained that sometimes one’s family cannot bear the burden of caring for him or her fully at home.
Republican John Cauthorn of Mexico, Mo., who is running against Democrat Kelly Schultz in the 21st District, said he worries about the safety of those who choose home health care. He appreciates the universal safety regulations of institutions such as nursing homes.
On a similar issue — the amount of money the state spends on habilitation centers to provide residential and treatment services for people with severe disabilities — some of the candidates said they believe people should be able to choose home or community-based care instead.
Stephen Webber, the incumbent Democrat in Columbia's 23rd District, said he supports more research into the merits of home-based care but citizens should have the option to choose.
Nauser said she also likes the idea of giving people a choice but added that she isn't very familiar with Missouri’s institutions and will have to look at the budget to make a more informed decision.
Schultz of Shaw said that while fewer families are using the option of habilitation centers, she would oppose any move to close them all. In the future, as fewer beds are being used, she said, business decisions should be made to consolidate facilities and keep open those that offer the highest quality of care.
On the issue of Medicaid, the candidates were asked whether they would support an increase in income eligibility guidelines. Currently, a person with a disability is required to live on no more than $768 per month — or 85 percent of the federal poverty level — and any extra income they receive must be paid toward Medicaid coverage.
All the candidates except Cauthorn and Nauser said they would support raising the monthly eligibility cutoff to $867 per month, which would equal 100 percent of the federal poverty level. Nauser said that the current amount allotted to persons with disabilities is unreasonable but that she would have to look at the issue further.
“I’m not going to sit here and make promises,” she said.
Cauthorn agreed raising the eligibility threshold is a worthwhile goal but said he doesn't know whether the state can afford it.
Ninth District incumbent Rep. Paul Quinn, D-Monroe City, and 25th District Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, attended but are unopposed in the Nov. 2 general election. Paul Szopa, the Republican who is challenging Webber, did not attend.