No One Said It Would Be Easy…

For the past two weeks, I have been involved in a small informal Task Force of Senate and House members charged with finding a funding solution to cuts for in-home and nursing home services that went into effect with the new budget year in July. It has been one of the more challenging experiences I have faced in the Capitol.

The only solution that Republican leadership would entertain was a rollback of the Circuit Breaker Tax Credit for low-income seniors. Literally, the proposal would take money from low-income seniors and redistribute it to other low-income seniors and people with disabilities.  Let me be clea­r––there are other possible solutions that would be far less damaging to Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens.

Democrats, including Rep. Crystal Quade and I, brought several solutions to the Task Force, including:

  • Modifications to the timely filing discounts for business. (The state literally pays businesses over $170 million/year just for filing their taxes on time).
  • Modifying the “discount” to business for paying taxes on time from a 2% tax liability reduction to a 1% reduction. (This solution would be more than enough money to restore the cuts and, for the record, it is multi-national corporations who are the primary beneficiaries of this perk.)

It bears pointing out that a Republican supermajority in the state legislature controls the legislative agenda, the bills heard, and, in this case, the solutions considered by the Task Force. Task Force leaders made clear that the only option for a “funding fix” for the cuts made in in-home and nursing home services would come from a reduction of or alteration in Circuit Breaker funding.

As a result, I was faced with the difficult decision whether to register my protest by refusing to participate in the Task Force or to participate to at least ensure that my voice was heard at the table. I cannot support the proposal as it stands, nor will I accept it as the only solution. Therefore, I could not ignore the opportunity to speak out while this important issue was discussed––that is not who I am. I opted to participate hoping my involvement might mitigate the damage and result in a decision that would be least bad for low-income seniors. Those Missourians who saw their Prescription Drug Program benefit ripped away this year, due to drastic cuts to that program, deserve no less.

It is critical that we find a solution for the adequate funding of in-home and nursing home services. This year’s budget cuts to these services were draconian. A rollback of the Circuit Breaker Tax Credit program will only magnify the devastating effect to these Missouri citizens.

It is reported that the House Budget Chair will soon float two scenarios to the Governor with the hope that he calls yet another special legislative session to resolve this issue. It is not likely that the Governor will appreciate the urgency to do so, leaving the General Assembly with a last option of calling themselves back into session for the first time in the history of the body. The call to reconvene will require support from a handful of Democrats in order to meet the required high threshold. This presents a Catch-22 for many of us who see the irresponsible Republican penchant for tax cuts being borne once again on the backs of seniors and those with disabilities. As an added insult in this instance, seniors are pitted against each other, frantically trying to hold on to the few dollars or services they currently receive.

As the Task Force concludes and action is taken, please know that Rep. Quade and  I are doing everything we can to push for a reasonable solution that limits the devastating impact to the most vulnerable among us. I could use your help. Please let your legislators know where you stand.

What Is the Circuit Breaker Tax Credit?

Missouri’s Circuit Breaker Program is a state tax credit for low-income seniors and eligible persons with disabilities. Approximately 180,000 Missouri citizens claimed Circuit Breaker Tax Credits in FY2017 for a total cost to the state of $101M. The average homeowner received $550, while the average renter received $570 as an offset to the property taxes or rent paid during the year.

Options Considered by the Republican-Controlled Task Force:

According to Columbia Missourian reporting, the two options being considered would include some combination of the following based on Circuit Breaker Tax Credits:

  • Reducing the cap of the credit, which is currently set at $1,100 for homeowners and $750 for renters.
  • Lowering the maximum income at which recipients would be eligible.
  • Raising the age at which senior citizens would be eligible, which is currently 65 years.
  • Eliminating the tax credit for people who are already receiving state aid to live in nursing homes or other care facilities.

When the State Fails to Provide for its Most Vulnerable Citizens, our Legislative Priorities Must Change

In May Missouri lawmakers approved a one-time funding fix aimed at avoiding previously enacted cuts to in-home and nursing home care. It was subsequently vetoed by the Governor, with insufficient votes in the legislature to attempt an override. This left no alternative for the approximately 8000 seniors and those with severe disabilities who will be left with no state-funded services on which they rely. A Republican-led Task Force was formed to find a funding source to alleviate some of the cuts to state-supported in-home and nursing home care. The solution now pushed by those in power involves pitting low-income seniors against low-income seniors by reducing Circuit Breaker Tax Credits in order to fund some nursing care services.