Missouri state senators on Wednesday gave Republican Gov. Mike Parson sweeping authority to spend billions of dollars in federal stimulus money as the state tries to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri state senators on Wednesday gave Republican Gov. Mike Parson sweeping authority to spend billions of dollars in federal stimulus money as the state tries to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Senators voted 28-1 to pass the emergency spending bill. It would still need the approval of the House, which was expected to pass the bill later Wednesday.
The money for medical supplies, local governments, nursing homes and other aid will only cover the state's current fiscal year, which ends in June.
More than $1 billion in federal funding is expected to go toward reimbursing local governments for virus-related expenses. Another $300 million would go to K-12 schools, and $200 million would go to colleges and universities.
Nursing homes could get $90 million in extra federal funding, which would amount to roughly $25 more per day per Medicaid patient to help maintain staffing and prevent outbreaks. Homes where a patient or staffer tested positive for COVID-19 would get an extra $20 per day on top of that, if the federal funding comes through.
Other plans for the federal funding include using $20 million to keep child care providers in business now that schools are closed and many parents have either lost their jobs or are working from home.
Only $4.5 million is slated for rural hospitals.
Parson's administration asked for the authority to spend much more than that: roughly $4.8 billion in federal funding in response to the pandemic. At least $1.8 billion of that hasn't been promised by Congress yet.
State Budget Director Dan Haug said the purpose is to pad Parson's spending authority in case more federal funding becomes available so that lawmakers wouldn't need to return to the Capitol.
"We are putting a lot of faith in the governor and giving him the flexibility, in my opinion, that he needs to manage this pandemic," Democratic Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo said.
Lawmakers placed few restrictions on Parson's ability to spend the federal money.
For example, the budget provides for a total of more than $1.5 billion in state and federal funding to be spent at "any state agency responding during a declared emergency at the direction of the governor provided the services furnish immediate aid and relief."
That rankled members of the Senate's Conservative Caucus, who raised concerns about giving Parson such broad spending authority.
"We want to make sure that we're ready to accept this," Republican Sen. Denny Hoskins said of federal funding. "Unfortunately, that guidance from the federal government, much of it has not been issued. And so we are placing a lot of trust and faith in our governor."
The Capitol has been closed to everyone except essential staff since March 24. Lawmakers are taking extraordinary social distancing precautions as they conduct business. Lawmakers have been encouraged to stay in their offices until they want to debate, ask questions or vote.
Republican Speaker Elijah Haahr led a nearly empty House with a voice muffled by a face mask. House lawmakers tried to allow a maximum of 10 people in the 163-member chamber at any one time.
"Today, business was anything but usual," Rizzo said.