Lawmakers approve Missouri operating budget

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Missouri foster care advocates are praising Friday’s passage of the $35.1 billion state operating budget, saying it provides unprecedented support for the foster families who care for the thousands of children in Missouri foster care.

House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith (R-Carthage) tells Missourinet that the budget provides a $90 million increase for foster and adoptive children.

“And that comes from the leadership of Speaker Rob Vescovo (of Arnold), who is very passionate about foster kids in the state of Missouri,” Smith says.

Speaker Vescovo (R-Arnold), who was adopted, has made the issue a top priority. It was a major them of his opening-day address in January.

Missouri currently has 13,939 foster children, according to the latest statistics from the state Department of Social Services (DSS). The $90 million dollar increase boosts the clothing allowance for foster children and foster teens and also increases the diaper allowance for Missourians caring for infants.

Kids Win Missouri, which advocates for foster children, is praising the increase. The group advocates for policies that support the health, education, safety, and development of children and their families, especially those who are at-risk.

“In the teenage years, youth quickly grow out of their clothes and these expenses are one of the larger financial burdens of foster parents that often isn’t adequately reimbursed,” Kids Win Missouri policy director Craig Stevenson tells Missourinet. “This increased support by the House and Senate budget leaders will go a long way to help our teenage youth in care, who are often among the hardest to find placement for.”

Chairman Smith says the $90 million increase will have a major impact.

“And we expect that would potentially be enough to get all of the children that are currently in the foster care system in Missouri out to permanent homes through the adoption process,” says Smith.

The budget increases the monthly maintenance payments that foster guardians and adoptive parents receive.

During an interview with Missourinet, Chairman Smith also addressed the controversial issue of Medicaid expansion and Friday’s heated House floor debate. He says the Legislature’s decision to not fund Medicaid expansion is a sound one.

Smith says that it’s critical instead to focus on Missouri’s most vulnerable residents.

“By not appropriating for Medicaid expansion, we were able to add increases to a lot of sectors of the budget that go toward the most vulnerable in our state’s population,” Smith says.

That includes additional funding for adult daycare and home-delivered meals and $88 million for funding long-term care services in nursing homes.

House Democrats called for funding Medicaid expansion, noting 53 percent of Missouri voters approved it in August. They say it would help the working poor. State Rep. Sarah Unsicker (D-Shrewsbury) says 49 percent of low-wage workers without insurance are in the industries of hospitality, retail and health care, and social assistance.

The $35 billion budget also includes a two percent pay increase for all of Missouri’s approximately 53,000 state employees.

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