Lawmakers are returning to Jefferson City for the second special legislative session of the year, set to focus on the state budget.
Gov. Mike Parson called for the special session on Oct. 21, citing a need to “get money in and be able to get some money out to pay some bills.” The session, which began Thursday, will focus on allocating money from federal CARES Act funds across Missouri.
Parson proposed a $1.3 billion plan, which will go to the Missouri House of Representatives first. The governor’s spending plan would supplement the state’s current budget. The new plan is needed to allocate unanticipated additional federal funds and to allow for changes in the way relief money may be used.
The House Budget Committee will convene at noon Monday to discuss the proposal, ask questions and potentially make amendments.
The largest portion of the supplemental plan includes coronavirus relief totaling more than $750 million. This would allow the state to spend all available Coronavirus Relief Funds by Dec. 30, where applicable. Additionally, if individual Missouri counties do not spend their funds in full, they may have to return them to the state for other use.
Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, is the ranking minority member of the Budget Committee. Kendrick said he anticipates questions about how much CRF money has been spent so far, as well as the plan moving forward.
“$750 million seems a bit inflated; it seems pretty high,” Kendrick said. “So we’ll try to get to the bottom of it to understand if that is actually reflective of what’s needed or if that’s slated for precaution.”
Another major portion of the budget is a plan to make roughly $97 million in child support money available to low-income families. The state can capture child support money for families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families support, as a way to reimburse the cost of providing that assistance. This proposal would direct such funds back to the families that need them.
Kendrick said lawmakers may have questions about what funds are currently being used to pay these families.
The committee will also discuss the Emergency Solutions Grant, an $18.7 million subsidy that would help provide emergency shelter and rehousing services to homeless Missouri residents via the Missouri Housing Development Commission.
The funds will be added to a previous $9.6 million appropriation.
“The grant came in larger than expected, so we will want to know the plan moving forward for MHDC to ensure that money gets out to nonprofits in a timely manner and to make sure that money is well spent,” Kendrick said.
He explained that this funding is necessary because of the likelihood of additional evictions occurring in the near future.
Many Missouri residents’ federal and state unemployment benefits will also soon run out, putting them at a higher risk for homelessness.
In addition to the COVID-19 funding, the budget also includes $2 million for a new witness protection fund. Lawmakers created the fund in a special session held earlier this year, with a goal of making funds available to increase security for witnesses, potential witnesses and their families.
After the Budget Committee approves the bill, it will be sent to the House floor Tuesday.
The Senate, which will likely not be in session again until the following week, would then consider the bill.