Vets say money in trust fund is running out

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Money is running out to pay for upkeep at state veterans' homes and cemeteries, officials from the Missouri Veterans Commission told a Senate committee on Monday.

The Veterans Commission Capital Improvement Trust Fund will be depleted by 2006 unless more money is directed its way, said Sam McVay, veterans commission executive director.

Veterans' groups are seeking help through a bill by Sen. Anita Yeckel, R-St. Louis, that would raise the trust fund's share of casino entrance fees.

Currently, most money from the casino fees goes into the state's Early Childhood, Development, Education and Care Fund. Yeckel's bill would split the money between the children's fund and the Veterans Commission trust fund, whose receipts from the casino fees is now capped at $3 million a year.

Advocates for children and veterans made their cases Monday to the Senate's Financial and Governmental Organization, Veterans Affairs and Elections Committee.

"Veterans as individuals and organizations have always supported kids program," said Dewey Riehn, a lobbyist for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

$50 million by summer

Money from casino entrance fees originally went to the veterans fund, but legislators amended the law about six years ago to direct more of the money to the children's' fund, Riehn said.

The veterans' fund now holds nearly $77 million, but that amount is expected to fall to about $50 million by summer and continue declining after that unless something is done, McVay said.

The fund's obligations are not expected to diminish, however, and large amounts are expected to be spent on such major projects as the remodeling of the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City and two new veterans homes, McVay said.

Children's advocates told the committee that hundreds of programs that help poor and low-income people cannot afford to lose any funding.

"There are a lot of kids and their families that need access to this help," said Candace Iveson of Citizens for Missouri's Children. "To pull this money from them right now would be a very difficult situation."

No one at the hearing knew just how much the state takes in from casino entrance fees. Advocates for children said the Early Childhood fund receives $17 million a year from the fees, but Riehn put that figure at more than $30 million a year.

Yeckel's bill has another purpose -- expanding the World War II medallion program to allow the granting of a medallion for any person, dead or alive, who served during World War II.

The committee took no action on the bill.

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