The Missouri House Tuesday green-lighted a tentative plan to allocate $1.27 billion in federal COVID-19 assistance that earmarks $764 million for pandemic mitigation, job training grants and school nutrition services.
House Bill 14, which largely replicated spending requests forwarded by Gov. Mike Parson, passed in a 133-4 vote and awaits adoption by the Senate when it convenes next week.
At least 46 lame duck lawmakers who will not serve in the 2021 Legislature are participating in the special session, which will include some type of proposed CIVID-19 liability protections for businesses before it concludes next week.
Parson’s request outlined proposed allocations for $1.27 billion remaining from the $3 billion in CARES Act money the state received in March.
Under his request, the governor sought $764 million, including $140 million for testing, tracing, and virus mitigation; $75 million for school districts to pay for school lunch programs; $34 million for the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to pay for unemployment assistance programs.
Parson’s funding request also included $2 million for a pre-trial witness protection fund created by lawmakers.
HB 14, sponsored by the House Budget Committee Chair Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, granted Parson his requested priorities, including the pretrial witness expenditure.
The only floor quibble Tuesday arose when Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, questioned the $75.66 million allocation for the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) School Nutrition Services Program (SNSP) to reimburse local school districts for school food programs.
Hill said schools are financed by taxpayers to educate children and by dedicating the money to SNSP the state is appeasing “other people’s priorities over educating our students.”
“Since March, students have not been educated, districts all over the state are doing different things and using different methods, and we’re looking at other priorities over education? It’s an embarrassment that this is our focus,” Hill said.
“Hungry kids do not learn,” said state Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson. “We will certainly use this money to feed these kids.”
Tuesday was the fourth day of the House’s special session to amend the state’s $35 billion Fiscal Year 2021 budget with the additional $1.27 billion in CARES money.
The House Appropriations Committee met for almost six hours Monday in reviewing HB 14 with state department and agency chiefs before adopting it unanimously and sending it to the floor Tuesday.
The CARES funds must be used before Dec. 30 of this year, State Budget Director Dan Haug told the panel Monday.
Haug said counties, for instance, have spent $128 million of the $520 million they received.
“We don’t want that money to go back to the feds,” he said. “We want to spend it in Missouri.”
Under the broad outlines of HB 14:
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