JEFFERSON CITY — House Budget Committee members met Monday to discuss the state’s supplemental budget, House Bill 14, during the second special legislative session of the year.
Lawmakers deliberated over the ins and outs of the bill, including COVID-19 relief and child care.
If passed, the $1.3 billion plan will supplement the original fiscal year 2021 budget in order to allocate additional federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds and allow the state to use local and federal relief money.
Spending an additional $1 billion — on top of the year’s $30 billion budget — amid a national economic crisis may seem a bit counterintuitive. However, the additional funds are expected to offset local and individual losses from the pandemic.
The committee unanimously agreed to move the budget to the full House for debate and a vote at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Although lawmakers generally agreed with the use of funds, many representatives had concerns about exactly where money would be going and why.
Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, raised questions about child care funding. Per the 2021 budget, $12 million was allocated for child care providers, but only roughly $268,000 has been spent so far.
Meredith wanted to ensure funds were effectively used to benefit children and child care facilities, including centers in St. Louis City that he said have been vocal about needing more funds to stay afloat.
Some of these hardships may be offset by the Children’s Trust Fund Authority, a $250,000 appropriation to combat child abuse and COVID-19-associated risks for children.
Lawmakers also discussed the Coronavirus Relief Fund at length. At $752 million, the CRF is the largest portion of the supplemental budget.
The appropriation would allow the state to spend all available COVID-19 funds by Dec. 30. Similar funding is included in the 2021 budget, but those policies do not line up with how current CRF spending works, per the federal government.
Roughly $528 million in CRF funds has been distributed to Missouri counties, but Budget Director Dan Haug said counties have only spent $128 million so far.
Counties are encouraged to spend all the funds allocated to them, but if they can’t, they are instead asked to return it to the state for other use. Various representatives had questions about what this meant in terms of appropriation authority.
In short, the state does not currently have the ability to spend funds returned by individual counties. However, the money still expires Dec. 30, regardless of who uses it. The CRF appropriation gives the state the authority to use these returned funds as necessary.
If the House approves the supplemental budget, it will then move to the Senate.
The Senate is scheduled to convene 10 a.m. Friday.