Study: State should restore programs for vulnerable Missourians

10 months 3 weeks 6 days ago Tuesday, June 26 2018 Jun 26, 2018 Tuesday, June 26, 2018 11:58:00 AM CDT June 26, 2018 in News
By: Blake Sammann, KOMU 8 Reporter
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COLUMBIA - A budget analysis group said a much larger than expected state general revenue for the 2019 budget could help vulnerable Missourians hurt by recent cuts, if the state would act. 

According to an analysis by the The Missouri Budget Project, the state is looking at around $300 million dollars or more in unexpected revenue rolling over from the 2018 budget to the 2019 budget.

The project's communications director, Traci Gleason, said the extra money has two main sources.

"A lot of it has to do with the timing of refunds, that were owed both based last year and the current year, but there is an up tick in individual income tax collections," Gleason said.

According to the group, the extra money could easily restore funding to prescription assistance for low income seniors, as well as home care for those with disabilities - programs cut in the 2018 budget. 

"It would only take about $35 million dollars to restore prescription assistance for Missouri seniors and home-based services," Gleason said. "And that's really a fraction of what we expect there to be in terms of increased revenue for the state."

Around 63,000 low-income Missouri seniors lost state help paying for prescription medications when legislators decided to stop funding the MORx program. The program was designed to help seniors who earned too much to qualify for Medicaid but didn't earn enough to pay for their medications.

Nick Foster is the director of the Voluntary Action Center, which helps low income Boone County residents. He said the change has caused many seniors to make some very difficult decisions.

"There are a lot of seniors that are making decisions about whether or not to pay for their rent or for their utilities or for their prescriptions. We do here these stories on a regular basis," he said.

Foster said, although the VAC does provide prescription assistance, it's far too little.

"Most of the time, the kind of support we provide is no more than $50 in a 12 month period. That wouldn't match anything like the state is providing," he said.

However, there are questions as to whether the programs will actually be restored. Gleason said upcoming tax cuts from 2014's Senate Bill 509 will continue to limit the money lawmakers can dole out.

"As those tax cuts go into effect, Missouri is going to see $150 million dollars less each year of implementation," Gleason said. "Given the fact that we have already seen policymakers cut services like prescription assistance, it's uncertain where those additional cuts are going to come from.

KOMU 8 News reached out to the Office of Administration to get reaction, but those calls were not returned.

Both Foster and Gleason said restoring prescription assistance would be a strong step forward for seniors all over the state.

"The possibility of restoring those funds back into supporting seniors through these prescription programs, I have no question that would be helpful and make a bid difference," Foster said. 

According to Gleason, "These can be life-saving services for seniors who need them."

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