Since earlier this year, I have worked hand-in-hand in hand with constituents, lawmakers and others to try to find a fix to the proposed cuts to nursing home and in-home care for low-income seniors. I heard stories about affected families and listened to a variety of proposed plans to fix the issue.

Several months ago, I presented a plan to Senate leadership and my caucus, which outlined ways we could reverse cuts to in-home care and nursing homes without any increases to the current budget. The proposal was a result of a working group comprised of a bipartisan team of House and Senate members.

The Senate’s proposal began with changing the Missouri Property tax Credit claim commonly known as the “circuit breaker’ credits. Our plan would cap income for program participants at 180 percent of the poverty level ($22,000) a year. The plan also capped the maximum available credits at $750 per household for home owners and $450 for renters; and reduced the percentage of rent that constitutes property tax to 10 percent (instead of the current 20 percent). This would not apply to those 100 percent disabled, 100 percent disabled veterans or surviving spouses of veterans, firefighters or police officers killed in the line of duty. Their maximum credits would remain the same as those under the current program.

Under my plan, no residents receiving state or federal assistance, or living in non-profit housing will be eligible to receive the circuit breaker credits.

To help fund the new plan, we would reduce funding for the Nursing Facility Reimbursement Allowance Fund by $1.5 million; and, reduce the Nursing Facility Quality of Care Fund by $1.5 million. Other sources of funding under consideration would produce approximately $3.5 million in savings and could include the Healthy Families Trust Fund (tobacco money); Life Sciences Trust Fund (tobacco money) and the Missouri Public Health Services Fund.

Each of these changes would provide approximately $25 million and federal matching funds would create approximately $40 million for a total of $65 million available to restore cuts made to the program.

While this is not set in stone, I can assure you the Missouri Senate will not cut benefits from 100 percent disabled individuals, 100 percent disabled veterans or surviving spouses of veterans, firefighters or police officers killed in the line of duty.

After my presentation to the majority caucus, all 17 Republican Senate members present signed a formal petition to call us into a special session to protect our seniors and disabled citizens. This proposal has also been presented to the House Budget Chairman. It is now up to House Leadership to assure the Senate they will pass the reforms to protect our nursing homes that accept Medicaid patients and home health care recipients receiving Medicaid benefits. State Representatives serving the 33rd Senatorial District are supportive of the proposal.

If approved, we would be in a position to call ourselves into special session or ask the governor to do so. While it seems like time is running short for us to convene a special session in 2017, I am preparing options to file a bill addressing these concerns as my first priority in 2018.

Lawmakers return to the State Capitol on January 3 at noon for the start of the 2018 legislative session.

Mike Cunningham is a Republican member of the Missouri State Senate, representing District 33. Contact him at 573-751-1882 or www.senate.mo.gov/cunningham

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply