House kills amendments funding elderly, disabled care

Rob Cook

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – One of the amendments to the state budget Montana lawmakers shot down Thursday would have given more funding to a program that helps pay for care for low-income seniors and disabled Montanans.

The chairman of the Health and Human Services Subcommittee, Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, said there’s money left over from what was set aside for that program from the last biennium.

“You look at this $42 million that wasn’t spent, why wasn’t that spent on provider rate increases? Why didn’t that go to direct care? That’s a good question, isn’t it?” he said.

Cook also said the Legislature’s budget proposes about $3 million less to the program than what was spent last biennium.

“When I hear something like $42 million that went unfunded, my first question is, ‘how do we figure out how to connect people with those services?’ Not, ‘how do we take those services away?’” said Rep. Laurie Bishop, D-Livingston.

Other Democrats joined Bishop in supporting the amendment.

“They need this care to go to the bathroom, they need this money to take a shower, they need this money to get dressed. Their personal care attendants help them go to work,” said Jessica Karjala, D-Billings.

The amendment failed 42-58, with most Republicans voting against it.

The full House of Representatives heard more than two dozen amendments to House Bill 2, or the main budget bill. Two of them passed.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.