The House is anticipated to vote today to send the Senate a $24 billion spending plan that does not include funding for the Blind Medical Subsidy Fund.
The $28 million fund was eliminated and the money used to help restore the $106 million dollar cut to higher education in the Governor’s budget proposal. Three Democrats had amendments drafted to take money from elsewhere in the budget to replace some or all of the Blind fund, but only one was offered during floor debate and that was defeated.
Representative Sara Lampe (D-Springfield) proposed using nearly $2 million that goes to drug testing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients and to printing photos on food stamp cards. She said, “Both of those provisions are really focused on low-income individuals, and they’re punitive actions because of the worry that people have of misuse … our needs are greater, clearly, in the area of those who are blind than it is in punitive action.” Lampe’s idea was voted down. Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey said the TANF testing proposal was a priority last session that passed with an overwhelming majority in the House, and should be allowed to stand.
Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) had a couple of amendments, but opted not to offer them. One set would have taken money for the blind pension out of increases for education and higher education, something Kelly says he was willing to take responsibility for.
Kelly says the Budget Committee went too far and acted too soon in cutting the Blind fund. “We don’t know the consequence. I think (Health, Mental Health and Social Services Appropriations) Chairman (Tom) Flanigan did some important thinking on this issue, and we should be looking at programs like this, but we didn’t have good evaluation of what the effect is and we may be able to do some of this but I don’t think we took a good look at the effect on all these people.”
Kelly and Representative Jeanne Kirkton (D-Webster Groves) both had an amendment to take $5 million from the information technology budget in the Office of Administration, but neither lawmaker offered them. Kirkton says, “After speaking with the department, it would have caused major havoc with them and (I) decided not to pursue that route.”
House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey (R-Kansas City) says that those amendments were not offered is “a little bit baffling.”
Silvey challenged Democrats, “I’ve been very clear through this whole process: the $28 million dollars went to higher education. If you’re against the cut, and you want the money back, offer a $28 million dollar amendment to cut higher education and put it back. That’s what the Governor wants. Not one person did it.”
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer says he doesn’t have a plan for how to address the Blind fund, assuming the situation doesn’t change before the House finally passes its budget. “Everything is on the table,” he said.