Nursing homes will take a hit in current budget

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JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — The Missouri House approved a budget plan Thursday with more money for early education and flat funding for public colleges and universities, but it keeps in place cuts to services for seniors and people with disabilities.

House Democrats slammed the latest spending plan for keeping cuts to in-home and nursing care that took effect this year. Democrats failed in their attempt to redirect unused money from other funds 

Assisted living homes will not be affected. Keith Sappington, with the Missouri Assisted Living Association, said the health department's assisted living program  will get back about half of the money it lost in last year's budget.

Overall funding for the entire Department of Health and Senior Services however, has gone down since Gov. Eric Greitens first announced his budget plans.

He originally suggested about $1.42 billion for the budget, but the House cut that $34 million.

The House's number is $21 million less than the current year's budget.

The Associated Press reports about 300 seniors and people with disabilities lost in-home care services after last year's budget cut. The impact of the smaller budget next year has not yet been calculated.

The senate will discuss the budget starting Tuesday.

Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, said, "Please make no doubt, we do have the money available to use this year."

She pitched ideas on ways to come up with the funding.

"And if we choose to make these services a priority, we will always have this money available," she said. "We as a state legislature are choosing not to make this a priority."

The services first went on the chopping block when Greitens last year initially proposed slashing them by requiring people to have a greater level of disability to qualify for the program, although he later backtracked.

The House in the final minutes of last year's session passed a plan to authorize the state administration commissioner to take $35.4 million from various dedicated funds in order to maintain the same level of personal care services. Greitens later vetoed the proposal.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, and House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, last year pledged to find a solution, but a bill that would come up with funding by slashing a tax credit for low-income seniors and renters with disabilities is stalled in the Senate.

While Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Brown, R-Solo, on Thursday said nursing home funding was a major crisis facing the state and promised to address the issue this year.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, appeared less optimistic.

"If the Senate can get really any kind of reform over to us, I think we would certainly be interested in looking at passing that," Fitzpatrick said. "But right now, it seems to be more of a Senate problem in being able to get it out over there."

On other fronts, Republican House leaders touted an increase in money for K-12 public schools that will mean lawmakers meet core funding goals outlined in state law, along with a new requirement that the state kick in an extra $48 million for early childhood education programs.

The House spending plan also avoids $68 million in Greitens' suggested cuts to public colleges and universities based on what they're expected to receive this year, a deal reached after most schools pledged not to raise tuition more than 1 percent.

Missouri senators also on Thursday gave final approval to an additional $700 million of spending this year, primarily to fund higher-than-expected costs in the Medicaid health care program for low-income residents.

State general revenues account for $162 million of the additional spending, which is more than lawmakers had originally expected to spend on a mid-year budget adjustment. That now goes to Greitens' desk.