To fight the spread of the coronavirus, the Missouri House has passed a plan that would include $33 million in emergency federal funds during the current state budget year. The governor’s state emergency declaration freed up another $7 million in state funding elsewhere in the current budget. The plan heads to the Senate, which is on break until at least March 30.
During floor debate this week on the legislation, Several Democrats said the amount is not enough to respond appropriately to a global pandemic. Some Republicans think it is but say lawmakers could add more money later if necessary.
Representative Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, says lawmakers might not get the chance to adequately fund response efforts later.
“Guess what folks – in a few weeks, we may be in a shelter in place order. It’s not safe for us to be here today. Our cities are acting. Our federal government is acting. We’re passing the buck,” says Razer. “For a lot of things $30 million is a lot of money – $30 million is not a lot of money for a global pandemic and you know it. You know it. Even if you don’t believe in government, government has to be here in times of emergency. We’re in a time of emergency today. Right now. The governor has declared it and we’re saying $30 million should be plenty. We have failed the people of Missouri today.”
House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, fired back.
“The plan is to remain calm. The plan is to take a measured approach to crafting an appropriate response based on what we know at the time,” says Smith.
Representative Sarah Unsicker, D-Shrewsbury, read excerpts from the emergency petition that Washington sent to the federal government for Medicaid assistance to deal with the coronavirus.
“They had the first case in the United States. On March 4, Washington state had 39 confirmed cases. Ten days later, there were 642 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washington state and 40 deaths from the disease,” says Unsicker. “Health care providers report that the COVID-19 outbreak and the predictable fears of residents that they may have COVID-19, have caused a major increase in the volume of emergency room and clinic visits, significantly longer ER wait times and an increase in intensive care and inpatient hospitalizations.”
Representative Kathy Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, indicates some members are going overboard.
“I’ve grown a little frustrated and a little weary of the doomsday picture that’s being painted,” she says. “We all know the drill – wash your hands, don’t touch your face. Don’t be around people who are ill. If you’re ill, contact your physician. If you need to go to the hospital, go to the hospital.”
Razer says Swan’s view does not sit well with him.
“To call this some kind of doomsday scenario that we’re being alarmists is, in my view, irresponsible to the six million people of this state. It was only a few weeks ago – two or three weeks ago, President Trump was using the same rhetoric – that this was a hoax,” says Razer. “That this wasn’t coming here. That we had nothing to worry about. That we have five confirmed cases in the country and within a few days it will be zero. We know that was wrong.”
The World Health Organization reports nearly 210,000 cases across the globe with more than 8,700 deaths. In America, more than 10,400 people have fallen ill from the disease and 150 people have died.
During a press conference at the state Capitol Thursday, Gov. Mike Parson says the respiratory illness is like viruses we’ve dealt with before – it will take time to respond to and people need to follow health guidelines.
“I don’t think there is a doomsday for the state of Missouri or the United States over the COVID-19,” says Parson. “I said yesterday I think it’s something we all have to be concerned with but to try to put that into a fear category is wrong. We can conquer this. We can get through this. It’s not going to be a week or two process. I do believe for the short-term outlook it’s probably two to three months.”
As for whether the House passed a plan with enough money to deal with COVID-19’s wrecking ball, Parson says he’ll be meeting with House and Senate leaders soon to discuss the budget.
“We’re going to all have to rethink the budget process this year about where we are financially. But this is a lot more than COVID-19. This is thousands of people losing their jobs. This is businesses closing down. There’s a lot of things that are going to be at stake. For me as governor, I want it to be about as wide open as we can make it to deal with COVID-19,” says Parson.
At least 28 people have tested positive in Missouri for the coronavirus.
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