JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The state of Missouri has more than a billion dollars in unspent CARES Act funds. On Tuesday, lawmakers took a step to give Governor Mike Parson the power to spend that money.
This is the second time lawmakers are at in Jefferson City in less than six months for a special session. Parson called legislators back before he was elected governor last Tuesday to give him the access to spend the state’s remaining CARES Act funding.
After a five-hour hearing Monday, representatives spent Tuesday debating how to spend the federal money given to Missouri for COVID relief. Missouri has received more than $3 billion in CARES Act funding and still has $1.2 billion of that that has not been spent.
“This is important for us to be back down here,” Rep. Kip Kendrick (D-Columbia) said. “We knew at that point there would likely be missing appropriations, especially when it relates to the federal authority, and here we are with the ability to correct that.”
The state is facing an end-of-the-year deadline to spend its CARES Act funds before it goes back to the federal government.
“This will keep the trades of state government running on time with some appropriation authority that has run out,” House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith (R-Carthage) said.
“Folks, if we don’t spend that money by Dec. 31, we will lose it,” Rep. Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis City) said.
Meridith said he wants to see how each county and city is spending their CARES Act funds the state has given them.
“The governor’s office has been unable to provide us with a list of counties and how much money they have spent or a plan on how they are looking to spend it,” Merideth said.
Representatives passed the roughly $1.2 billion package Tuesday which gives spending power to Parson. The governor said this money will go to things like job training grants, PPE, and school nutrition programs which caused a disagreement between lawmakers.
“We have really, really witness Missouri’s greatest failure and that’s because Mr. Speaker, we have forgotten about Missouri’s students,” Rep. Justin Hill (R-Lake St. Louis) said. “This budget seeks to give DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) $75 million in food. Food.”
Hill said school districts have become “glorified lunch-rooms.”
Across the aisle, Democrats said the money is necessary.
“I can assure you those meals that come by bus twice a day, they are going into children’s stomachs,” Rep. Raychel Proudie (D-St. Louis) said. “Hungry children don’t learn, period. You have to meet children’s most basic needs before they are learning anything, whether it’s virtual or in-person.”
Lawmakers hope this legislation gets the billions of dollars of unspent federal money out the door.
“And to the governor and his team, we can’t rely on the federal government, they’re not going to do it,” Rep. Jon Carpenter (D-Kansas City) said. “So, I implore the governor to take this thing seriously.”
The legislation also includes funding the new witness protection program lawmakers passed during the last special session. According to House Bill 14, the new program will receive $2 million.
The House passed HB 14 133-4 and the billion-dollar legislation is headed to the Senate. Senators are expected to vote on the bill next week.