Representative Eslinger

Hello Friends and Family, 

This past week we continued the 2020 legislative session and faced the difficult task of crafting a balanced state budget during a time when revenues are declining because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the challenge of making significant cuts in order to balance the budget, we approved a fiscally responsible spending plan that preserves funding for vital services such as K-12 education and provides new funding to support the state’s efforts to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus.

The House Budget Committee had approved its version of the state operating budget on March 15th, but when we returned to continue our work before the constitutional deadline it was clear that the original plan would require significant changes to reflect the reality of the current revenue situation. Previously our legislative leaders worked together to determine that approximately $700 million in savings would need to be found in order to bring Missouri’s general revenue fund into balance.

The budget approved by the House this week achieves the $700 million in savings primarily by eliminating new decision items. In total the budget removes approximately $454 million in new items that had been recommended by the Governor or the House Budget Committee. The House Budget Committee chairman noted that by finding savings in these areas, few state services would be impacted.

The budget savings also include approximately $146 million in reductions to core department funding, with the bulk of that figure coming from higher education institutions. In total, the Fiscal Year 2021 budget plan reduces higher education funding by 10 percent, which is a slight increase to the approximately 8.3 percent that is currently being withheld by the governor. Additionally, the spending plan achieves another $100 million in savings by increasing fund transfers to general revenue or avoiding transfers out of general revenue.

Funding for K-12 education is almost entirely preserved at the same level it is currently funded in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget. As it came to the floor, the budget plan included a $7.1 million decrease to funding for school transportation that was put in place by the governor. During discussion we approved amendments to soften that reduction to only $2.2 million. The budget plan also authorizes up to an additional $2 billion in spending authority for K-12 public schools should additional federal funds become available to support education.

Additionally, the plan approved authorizes another $54.6 million in funding from the federal CARES Act for emergency education relief funds. The funds can be used for K-12 education, higher education, or any combination of the two the governor may choose. The FY 21 budget also includes another $304 million in spending authority for the governor for public two-year and four-year institutions should federal funds become available to support them.

Other important items in the budget include:

 

  • $1.25 billion in federal funds and 200 FTEs for the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) to provide support and assistance to state and local government agencies responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
  • $31.5 million in new federal funds to help the Department of Labor & Industrial Relations (DOLIR) through its Division of Employment Security to provide timely assistance to those impacted by COVID-19.
  • $22.1 million in federal funds to DOLIR for “Shared Work” benefits and managing the department’s COVID-19 related expenses.
  • $11.4 million in federal funds to the Department of Public Safety to distribute Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) grants to fight COVID-19.
  • $23.6 million in federal funds to the Department of Mental Health to provide statewide crisis counseling, suicide prevention and telehealth services.
  • $392.8 million in increased funding to the Medicaid program to reflect the enrollment growth that has occurred as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • $13.3 million to the Department of Health and Senior Services to address coronavirus preparedness and response.
  • $185 million for child nutrition and food assistance programs.
  • $33 million for meals and services for senior citizens through the Area Agencies on Aging.
  • $4 million for the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program.
  • $1.5 million to the Nursing Facility Quality Care Fund to improve nursing homes.
  • $18 million for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides utility assistance for low-income Missourians.
  • $2 million in new federal funds to increase Missouri’s low-income weatherization program.
  • $12 million to increase access to broadband internet in underserved areas.
  • $10 million to reimburse counties for housing prisoners in jails.

The budget bills now move to the Senate for approval. The General Assembly has until May 8th to complete work on the Fiscal Year 2021 state operating budget.