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Health care workers, parole officers lobby for use of rainy day fund

February 06, 2002
By: Brian Connolly
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - There was nothing falling from the skies over the State Capitol, but about 90 health care workers and parole officers came armed with umbrellas.

The group was on a lobbying mission to convince legislators the current financial storm warrants Gov. Bob Holden's proposed use of Missouri's "rainy day fund."

The governor's budget uses $92.2 million from the rainy day fund, formally known as the Budget Reserve Fund, to pay for some mental health programs.

Use of budget reserve funds requires two-thirds approval from both the House and Senate. Without approval, legislators would have to find money elsewhere in an already tight budget to fund those programs.

Alcohol and drug addiction treatment services are among the items in jeopardy. If the programs included in the governor's budget reserve proposal aren't funded, substance abuse services to almost 30,000 Missourians would be eliminated, according to the Department of Mental Health.

Chuck Templeton, a parole and probation officer in Hickory County, said those programs are an important part of supporting his clients.

"If they don't have those they're not going anywhere," Templeton said. "They're going to be right back in our penitentiaries because they have no place else to go."

Templeton, who was among those who came to meet with lawmakers, said there is already an 8 to 10 week wait to get his clients into existing treatment programs. He said further cuts could have consequences reaching beyond his clients.

"Nobody is going to be safe in our community if these clients are still using," Templeton said. "If they're going to get the money to do it someplace...they're going to continue to do that because they've got a habit that they can't break or they won't break."

Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, said the programs included in Holden's Budget Reserve Fund proposal are "absolutely critical." Wilson, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee on Health and Mental Health, said she thinks there's a strong case to be made for using the funds.

"If we had a leaky roof at home and we were short on cash," Wilson said, "I would certainly dip into my savings, even knowing I would have to pay it back, in order to take care of that problem."