JEFFERSON CITY — Dedicating additional funds to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic was a priority of a rare Sunday meeting of the House Budget Committee.
Lawmakers met well into the evening but started their session by approving a recommendation from the governor's office that would allow the spending of approximately $13 million on the state's coronavirus response, money that State Budget Director Dan Haug said the state is expecting from the federal government.
Haug said a portion of the money would go toward local health agencies, and it could also be used for testing and lab services. He said they anticipated further guidance from the federal government on how they could spend the money early next week.
The timing of the money, however, is unclear, so the governor's office recommended the $13 million be placed on both the FY2021 budget and the supplemental budget for the current year.
Those federal funds are in addition to the approximately $7 million in state funds that can be used in response to Parson's state of emergency declaration. Haug said the state is still waiting to see if spending those funds will be necessary. There is a need to be judicious with those emergency funds, he said, because those funds also go toward natural disasters such as flooding and tornadoes.
Several Democratic lawmakers submitted amendments to add further funding. A number of them would have taken money from the state's tourism budget to go toward various aspects of dealing with the virus and its impact on Missourians.
Among the proposals were helping to cover utility bills for low-income people who must stay home from work to self-isolate, funding methods to help with voting during a public health emergency, more funding for the Department of Corrections for overtime and supplies and more.
Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, proposed the amendment to take nearly $3 million from tourism and move it toward utility bill payments. Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, supported the bill, saying that it would help enable people to heed advice and miss work to stay in isolation, rather than going back because they can't afford lost income.
Several Republicans stressed the importance of tourism and the need there will be to promote the industry once the outbreak has passed. Bosley wasn't convinced.
“We can have these conversations about tourism, but there's going to be no one to tour the state at this point," Bosley said.
Several Republican lawmakers also said, in response to the amendments from Bosley and others, that it is too soon to say exactly what funds will be needed, and for which priorities. More federal money may be available, and specific state needs are not yet clear, they said. Dealing with these issues in the proposed budget is therefore not appropriate.
"Right now, we need to make a note of the fact that there may be a time we need to come back around and provide meaningful assistance to folks," Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, said.
None of the proposals to redirect tourism funds succeeded. All were withdrawn by their sponsors after discussion. Several said the main goal was to begin the conversation.