JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers may need to return later this summer to renew an important tax that affects funding the state’s Medicaid program.
Earlier this session, legislators voted to not fund the voter-approved Medicaid expansion. It was estimated to cost $1.9 billion, with roughly $130 million of that coming from the state.
Other items on the agenda members didn’t get across the finish line: forgiving overpaid unemployment benefits, renewing the Federal Reimbursement Allowance (FRA) program, and changes to elections laws.
The FRA must be renewed by the end of September. The program funds the state’s Medicaid program by taxing medical providers like hospitals. It wasn’t approved by the General Assembly this session.
Still, Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, and Senate Republicans are calling this session a success.
“I think any notion that because we didn’t do something that doesn’t have to be done until September 30 is somehow a failure, I think is a misclassification,” Rowden said.
House leaders said after lawmakers adjourned Friday, they were upset with the Senate for not renewing the tax.
“As you saw, the House did their work on the FRA. We were always committed to that issue,” Speaker of the House Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, said. “I’m going to reach out to the governor. We will talk to him and see where we go from here.”
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said if and when lawmakers return, he doesn’t think the House will have to debate long on how to renew the program.
“We will come in and do our part, renew the FRA,” Smith said. “It’s a pivotal piece of the state budget.”
Senate Minority Floor Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said it’s up to the governor on what exactly he calls lawmakers back for.
“The ball is in the governor’s court. Seems like the session is for grandstanding and special sessions are for actually doing work,” Rizzo said.
During the last day of session, Democrats stressed that they are still frustrated for the General Assembly not funding Medicaid expansion.
“If we really wanted to invest in things that we know will grow our state, we should be fully committing to Medicaid expansion and appropriately funding it,” Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said.
“Opposing Medicaid expansion, knowing on the backend it’s going to happen in court,” Rizzo said. “It’s a game that [Republicans] are playing with peoples’ lives, and it’s sad because it’s not about providing healthcare or to pass an FRA or expanding Medicaid like the people wanted. It’s about [lawmakers’] next office.”
Other unfinished business from the legislative session: forgiving overpaid unemployment benefits.
During the budget process, the Senate proposed to use $48 million of CARES Act funding to pay the state’s portion of overpaid unemployment benefits, as long as lawmakers passed legislation.
“I will tell you that many of us in the caucus have received phone calls and emails of folks truly not knowing how they are going to pay their bills because they have to pay this money back,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said.
The House passed a measure to waive the federal unemployment overpayments. According to the Department of Labor, 46,000 Missourians were overpaid during the pandemic. The governor has previously said he does not support Missourians keeping the overpayments.
“I don’t agree with the governor. I’ve said it from the beginning. I think the state failed in its obligation to that job properly,” Rowden said. “I think it is one thing we swung and missed on.”
The topic came up for debate on the Senate floor, and Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, used the legislation to add an amendment to cut the weeks Missourians could receive unemployment benefits depending on the state’s unemployment rate.
“We are in a situation where we’re on the backend of the pandemic, and we thought the world was ending,” Rowden said. “The federal government is throwing money at us faster than we know how to spend it, and so now you have states pulling back, rightfully so because in Missouri, like every other state, we have more jobs than we literally have people to put in those.”
Bernskoetter’s amendment caused the legislation to stop in its tracks from moving forward in the General Assembly.
The state’s labor department paused overpayment collections back in April. A note on the top of the department’s website said:
“While the Missouri legislature considers allowing the Department of Labor to waive the federal unemployment overpayments made during the pandemic, DOLIR has temporarily paused collections on non-fraud pandemic-related overpayments.”
FOX4’s Missouri Capitol Bureau reached out to the department Tuesday to ask if, now that session is over and legislation wasn’t passed, if/when collections will resume. A spokesperson from the department said:
“We are examining the options available and will provide notice to affected claimants widely should the state begin collections processes.”
Parson announced earlier this month the state would be ending the $300/week from the federal government for Missourians receiving unemployment starting June 12. Parson said this was needed to grow the economy in the state.
Lawmakers said it’s up to the governor to call a special session to renew the FRA, and he could expand the call to allow legislators to pass forgiveness on unemployment overpayments.