Missouri senators set aside $20M for meat packing plants

Triumph Foods

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri senators on Friday parceled out millions of dollars in expected federal coronavirus stimulus funding to help the state cope with the pandemic, including $20 million for meatpacking plants.

A Senate panel made initial changes to the state budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. Changes include giving Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s administration the authority to spend up to $20 million in federal aid on the state’s struggling meatpacking and producing facilities.

“If we don’t help these processing plants get back open, anybody that likes to eat meat’s going to get in trouble soon,” Republican Sen. Jeanie Riddle said.

Missouri Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Mike Deering said in an email that production has slowed as plants spread out workers for social distancing.

Employees typically work close to each other at meatpacking plants, which can enable the spread of COVID-19.

State health officials on Friday said nearly 300 workers at the Triumph Foods pork processing plant in St. Joseph have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Republican Sen. Justin Brown, who proposed setting aside federal funding specifically for meat plants, said the money could be used to buy masks and other personal protective gear for workers or to expand operations at smaller plants.

Senators said they plan to put restrictions on how the money can be used later on in the budgeting process. The proposal still needs approval from the full House, and then the House and Senate will hash out any differences between the chambers.

Another Senate committee change would set aside $30 million in federal funding for stimulus grants for small businesses. While the state is expected to get billions of dollars in federal aid to help fight coronavirus and reopen the economy, state revenues took a hard hit when the virus shuttered businesses.

Lawmakers have already stripped roughly $146 million from core state agency budgets next year, and the state House passed a proposal to cut state funding to public colleges and universities by 10%.

Senators appear open to easing some of the cuts to higher education.

Republican Sen. Denny Hoskins on Friday pitched adding more pull-tab dispensers, which are lottery ticket vending machines, and putting any additional revenue toward colleges and universities.

Lawmakers are trying to pass a budget by their May 8 constitutional deadline.