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Coalition Protests Social Service Cuts

February 13, 2002
By: Brian Connolly
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 1111

JEFFERSON CITY - Cutting social services isn't the answer to Missouri's budget woes according to a statewide coalition of social service providers and supporters.

Members of the Missouri Coalition for Budget and Policy Priorities were at the state Capitol Wednesday to protest Gov. Bob Holden's proposed cuts to programs for the mentally ill, disabled, and elderly.

Those cuts would affect the state's poorest and most vulnerable people, said Barbara Ross, director of the social concerns office at the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City.

"The governor rather brags in his budget proposal that Missouri is 47th in taxes," Ross said. "But that is a new cynical way to say that we don't care how much poor people and people at the bottom of the heap suffer. We're proud that we don't tax ourselves enough to pay our bills."

Ross suggested that the governor shelve his plans to reopen the Bonne Terre prison at a cost of $30 million. To deal with the state's rising prison population, Ross said Holden could look at changing sentencing, probation and parole regulations to let first time nonviolent offenders out of jail.

When pressed about whether he would consider that course of action Holden said he was "more than willing to listen to anyone's suggestions."

Among the proposals opposed by the group is a change in the state's policy on Medicaid that would save $20.6 million. Medicaid allows people with income greater than the program limit to participate in a "spend-down." Someone participating in a spend-down is given a quarterly dollar amount they must spend before Medicaid begins covering their medical expenses.

For example, under the current system if someone's spend-down amount was $100 and they incurred $150 in medical expenses in one day, Medicaid would pay all expenses for that day and the rest of the quarter. Holden's proposal would require the participant to pay the amount of their spend-down, $100 in this example, with all further costs that quarter covered by Medicaid.

Because Medicaid recipients are limited in how much money they can have in savings while still remaining eligible for the program, forcing those payments would be damaging, said Cynthia Keele, executive director of the Missouri chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

"It's going to lock a bunch of needy people off Medicaid," Keele said.

Members of the coalition said that cuts to programs like Medicaid cost the state millions in federal matching funds. The change in the spend-down policy alone would cause the state to lose $12.7 million in federal funds, Ross said.

Mary Hussmann of Grass Roots Organizing said proposed reductions in dental and optical services covered for adults will also end up costing the state.

"Their teeth will have problems, they'll go into emergency rooms, the care will be more and more expensive," Hussmann said. "There will be infections that will be more and more difficult to treat, eye problems that will be extreme rather than minor."