At the start of the year, Missouri was sitting on $80 million. The money was set aside in case the Children’s Health Insurance Program wasn’t refunded by the federal government. In late January, Missouri was caught by surprise when CHIP was refunded.
Now, Gov. Eric Greitens hopes to use the money to fund a “Rural Growth Plan.” According to a press release, the plan would invest the state’s CHIP money in rural broadband Internet, clean water initiatives and state ports. But some state legislators want to use the money for higher education.
Ralph Martin, vice president of the Missouri Port Authorities Association, said Greitens’ plan will revitalize rural Missouri.
“We firmly believe that that’s going to create jobs,” Martin said. “It’s going to create more and more opportunities for local business.”
Greitens’ “Rural Growth Plan” includes investing $45 million in rural broadband. The investment would bring high-speed internet to rural areas by 2020 according to a press release. Dan Cassidy, chief administrative officer of the Missouri Farm Bureau, said faster Internet access would help bring residents back to rural Missouri.
“We think [rural broadband is] not only something that would be nice to have,” he said. “We think this is something that those that live and work in rural Missouri need to have. And this initiative will jump-start that.”
He said rural broadband is more than just providing access to Netflix, as it will open new job opportunities to people in rural Missouri.
“It’s a foundation for so many things, whether they be in agriculture, education, health care, or business development in rural areas,” he said. “This is a tremendous building block and a way to bring people back to rural Missouri.”
Greitens’ plan would also invest $14 million in Missouri’s port infrastructure. According to a press release, this investment would create new jobs and increase exports of agricultural products. Martin said the investment would allow MPAA to acquire land in Pike and Lincoln counties and build a new port in Howard and Cooper counties.
Missouri’s legislature will discuss how to use the CHIP money in the state budget in late March.