Poverty and Progress: The State of Being Poor in Missouri and New Threats Ahead

On November 6, 2017 Empower Missouri and the Coalition for Human Need released a report entitled Poverty and Progress: The State of Being Poor in Missouri and New Threats Ahead. The whole report can be found here bit.ly/MOPoorRpt. As the report states:

We Can – and Must – Continue to Make Progress for the Millions Still Struggling

We can – and should – do more to further reduce poverty for the millions of Americans still struggling. To achieve this goal, Empower Missouri and the Coalition on Human Needs recommend the following actions for Congress and President Trump:

  • Reject cuts to proven anti-poverty programs; instead, protect and expand funding for programs including SNAP, Medicaid, housing subsidies and others.
  • Reject tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations that will lead to further cuts in domestic programs. Paying for tax cuts for the rich while cutting programs for the poor, infrastructure investments, and public health protections is simply wrong. Corporations and the wealthy need to pay their fair share.
  • Lift sequester caps for domestic discretionary programs to boost investments in education and many other programs. A bipartisan deal, similar to those reached in past years, is needed to lift the austere sequester-level spending caps for FY18 and beyond.
  • Increase federal funding for housing subsidies and child care subsidies. As Congress continues its FY18 appropriations process, it should increase funding to provide millions more Americans in need with access to safe, stable housing and quality, affordable child care.
  • Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to workers not raising children and expand the Child Tax Credit to families making less than $3,000 a year. A bipartisan group of members of Congress have previously shown support for expanding the EITC, so helping workers without dependent children should be a top priority for Congress. Congress should also act to ensure all low-income children benefit from the CTC.
  • Reject harsh time limits and work requirements for SNAP, Medicaid, and subsidized housing recipients. Congress should end the harsh time limits on SNAP benefits for certain jobless adults willing to work.
  • Congress should once and for all abandon efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and instead stabilize the law’s insurance markets. And Missouri and other states that haven’t yet expanded health coverage to workers with low incomes by drawing down federal Medicaid dollars should do so. Governors of states that have continued to deny health coverage to residents with low incomes should end this costly failure to take advantage of federal dollars on the table and provide necessary health care to those who can least afford it.
  • Congress should enact the Dream Act, providing legal status and a path to citizenship for the young people brought to this country as children. Their freedom to work, learn, and serve in the armed services contributes to economic growth.

Read the full report: bit.ly/MOPoorRpt

Click for press release.

Empowering You November Newsletter

WOW! What a great POW! Conference. Thanks to all those who attended. See what you missed and share in the great pics. This issue also includes updates on the case of Michael Johnson who was convicted under MO’s outdated and stigmatizing HIV criminal laws, the illegal lockout bill in STL city, and a welcome to our new board chair! Take a look.

Click for downloadable/printable PDF.

Empowering You – October Newsletter

Check out Empowering You- newsletter from Empower Missouri.

In this issue:

  • Preview our workshops and meet our Superhero Awardees for the 116th Annual Conference: Persisting & Organizing to Win – POW! October 5-6th! Register NOW!
  • Veto Session: were any of Gov. Greitens’ vetoes overridden?
  • How will you honor World Food Day?

Download a PDF.

POW! 2017 Annual Conference

116th ANNUAL CONFERENCE: 
Persisting & Organizing to Win! Putting the POW in EMPOWER!

October 5-6, St Louis, MO

Online Registration is NOW OPEN!

Empower Missouri is dedicating the 2017 Annual Conference to the role of labor organizing. With continued attacks to reduce the reach and influence of the labor community, now is the time to focus on building strong alliances across the broad social justice spectrum.

Keynote Speakers:

  • Nancy Cross: Opening Keynoter, Vice President SEIU Local 1
  • Tiffany Dena Loftin: Closing Keynoter, Senior Program Specialist, NEA
  • Rev. Traci Blackmon & Rabbi Susan Talve: Dinner & Awards Speaker

>>>Preview our complete POW! Conference program booklet, with descriptions of workshops, bios of presenters and awardees, and final schedule. <<<

Schedule:

Thursday, October 05, 2017

9:00 - 10:00

10:00-11:30

Registration Opens - remains open throughout conference

Pre-Conference Session Presented by Missouri Jobs with Justice

11:30-11:45

Break

11:45- 1:15

Conference opens with Welcome 

Buffet Lunch Available

Keynote: Nancy Cross 

1:15-1:30

Break

1:30-3:00

Session 1 Breakouts.  See below for list.

3:00-3:15

3:15-4:45

Break

Session 2 Breakouts. See below for list.

4:45-5:00

Break and Awards Dinner check-in.

4:45-6:00

Networking Happy Hour with Cash Bar.

6:00-8:00 PM

Dinner and guest speakers Reverend Traci Blackmon & Rabbi Susan Talve.

Presentation of annual awards winners.

Friday, October 06, 2017

7:30-9:00

8:30-9:45

Breakfast buffet

Annual Business Meeting

9:45-10:00

Break

10:00-10:45

Keynote Presentation - Tiffany Dena Loftin 

10:45-11:45

Response Panel 

11:45 AM-Noon

Call to Action, Thank You’s & Safe Travels

   

Subject to change, more details to follow.

Breakout Session #1 1:30-3:00 PM   Breakout Session #2 3:15-4:45 PM
Housing & Food Insecurity Among Low-Wage Workers (AHHTF & HTF)   Housing & Food Insecurity Among Low-Wage Workers (Repeat) (AHHTF & HTF)
Justice in the Workplace (HRTF)   Faith/Labor Alliance
MO Budget Project (EJTF)   Ban the Box - Fair Chance Hiring Policies (CJTF)
Impact of Trauma on Low-Wage Workers (H/MHTF)   Minimum Wage and #FF$15 (EJTF)

Scholarships:

10% of the total tickets sold are available at a Scholarship Rate of 10% of the conference price. Click here to apply for a scholarship. If selected, you will receive registration instructions.

Sponsoring:

You and/or your organization can show your support for worker's rights and grassroots organizing by sponsoring our conference and contributing to our scholarship fund for low-wage workers. 

Thank you to last year's Sponsors. 2017 Sponsors include:

Bob Fox & Maxine Clark
Center for Budget & Policy
Clark-Fox Foundation
CWA Local 6355
David Bohnett Foundation
Dowd Bennett, LLP
Lutheran Children & Family Services
Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys
Missouri Faith Voices
Missouri Jobs with Justice
Missouri Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Council of Jewish Women
National Low Income Housing Coalition
Painters & Allied Trades, District Council 58
Places for People
Representative Deb Lavender
Schuchat, Cook & Werner
Second Chance Freedom Foundation
Service Employees International Union Local One
Senator Jill Schupp
Sts Joachim & Ann Care Service
Vision for Children at Risk
Women's Voices Raised for Social Justice
15th Ward Democratic Club

When & Where

October 5-6, 2017

Sheraton Clayton Plaza Hotel, St. Louis

7730 Bonhomme Ave.

St. Louis, MO 63105

(Special hotel rate of $109/night is available under "Empower Missouri October 2017" RATE EXPIRES 9/12)

 

Sponsors

 

Documents

Governor’s Commission Deletes Vital Tax Reform Proposals

By Jeanette Mott Oxford
Executive Director, Empower Missouri

On January 25, 2017, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens issued an executive order creating the Governor’s Commission on Simple, Fair and Low Taxes. The commission was to hold at least four public hearings and issue a final report by June 30, 2017.

The commission held several meetings at which testimony was taken, mostly in Jefferson City, and I testified for Empower Missouri and our Missourians for Tax Justice sub-committee of the Economic Justice Task Force at the May 23 meeting. The four public hearings were held in May and June, and none of these was set for an urban area.

On June 30, the commission did indeed release a final report. The report followed expectations by various political pundits, proposing that tax credits be subjected to the appropriations process, that the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program be converted to a low interest loan program and that a lower cap be established on the Historic Preservation Tax Credit.

But a curious thing happened on the way to the publication of the final report. A draft version of a much longer commission report was leaked to the media and published by the Missouri Times newspaper on June 28. That draft included several recommendations that Empower Missouri made in our May 23 testimony and suggestions from our allies at the Missouri Budget Project as well.

Why Is Missouri’s Revenue System In Such a Mess?

On the same day that the commission’s final report was released, Gov. Greitens announced $251 million in new withholdings due to revenue shortages. This is a common story, occurring whether a Democrat or a Republican occupies the governor’s mansion, because, expressed simply, Missouri’s revenue system is a mess. There are multiple factors that have created a perfect storm for Missouri’s revenue system. Among these are:

1) The Hancock Amendments

Voters in our state helped to create our repeated budget woes by passing the Hancock Amendment in 1980. This established that total state revenues cannot exceed 5.64% of Missourians’ personal income or tax dollars have to be returned to Missouri income tax payers. (This provision was triggered more than once in the 1990’s.) A second revenue-limiting amendment was passed in 1996, forcing the General Assembly to take most revenue-producing ideas to the voters for approval.

According to the most recent audit from May 2017, we are now $4.1 billion below the point at which Hancock refunds would be triggered. We believe this is an indication that our General Assembly is not providing a maintenance of effort related to the common good in Missouri.

2) Tax Cuts

The General Assembly has repeatedly cut taxes over the past twenty years – with cuts totaling approximately two billion dollars cumulatively, according to testimony given by Jim Moody at a hearing on Senate Joint Resolution 12 on February 21, 2017.

Cutting taxes is popular, but history shows us that it does not cause prosperity to break out all over as promised. Pres. Reagan raised taxes after cutting them. The “Taxpayers Bill of Rights” cuts in Colorado had to be changed because of damage done to their state, especially educational institutions, by those cuts. The Kansas Legislature has now overturned part of Gov. Brownback’s cuts.

3) Our System Is Outdated

The General Assembly has not updated our graduated tax table since 1931 – leaving our state with an outdated, unfair and inadequate revenue system – and one that is harder to fix with every year that passes. Our top tax bracket starts at $9,000 of taxable income, a lot of money in 1931, but poverty-level in 2017. (In 2017 dollars, $9,000 equals $143,786, yet we have not adjusted our tax brackets for modern realities.)

4) Our System Is Unfair – In More Than One Way

Right now, a Missourian making less than $18,000 annually pays 9.5% of their incomes in sales, excise, property and excise taxes, while a Missourian making more than $407,000 annually pays 5.5%. This is a function of our state’s essentially “flat tax” due to lack of modernization of the 1931 progressive brackets, combined with the deduction for federal income taxes paid.

Missouri is one of only six states allowing a deduction on state taxes for federal taxes paid. The wealthiest 40 percent of Missourians receive 83% of the benefit of this tax feature (sometimes called the FIT Deduction), and the tally of funds not collected due to it in the most recent year for which we have data was nearly $600 million, according to data shared by the Department of Revenue with the Missouri State Tax Study Commission in autumn, 2016.

Improvements That Could Be Made

Taken in combination, Missouri’s voters and General Assembly have structured our state to fail to provide essential programs and services and destined Missouri governors to face withholdings repeatedly. But there are solutions that could be implemented:

We could update Missouri’s tax brackets to match modern economic realities. They are so outdated that it is almost impossible to do this while reaching even tax revenue neutrality since they are so badly out of date. Loss of revenue is apt to happen without a new higher rate for some bracket (hopefully at the top incomes) or reform of some tax feature like elimination of the FIT Deduction described above.

A state-level Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of the best ways to help these families. It is structured to reward work and to avoid “cliff effects.” It is simple to administer because it is based on the federal EITC. There are families in every Missouri county who would receive much needed help from a state EITC, and those families would also spend much of the funds received in their home counties on the basics, stimulating local economies. .

Participating in The Main Street Fairness Act (Streamlined Sales Tax) would also level the playing field between bricks and mortar businesses in Missouri and online shopping venues in other states. Many avoid paying sales taxes currently by shopping by Internet. Our Missouri stores are disadvantaged.

In Conclusion

We agree with the concluding paragraph in this July 6, 2017 editorial by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board.

Given the political influence of big tax credit recipients, those reforms aren’t likely to pass, either. Tax reform is hard work and fraught with political peril. It requires more courage than Missouri’s politicians have been able to summon.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, courage is “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” Fear does not have to disappear to be courageous; one just must be able to withstand it. Missouri’s General Assembly should gather the courage to undertake reality-based tax reform work as our state’s future health and well-being depends upon it.

Legislative Update Week of 3.13.17

 
Three Cheers for You! SB 28, the block granting of Medicaid, has been put on the back burner. Thanks for making all those calls. The bill was briefly debated in the senate floor before being laid over to the informal calendar - so it could come back, but it was not put forward for a vote at this time. Take a deep breathe and soak in that moment.
 
 Advocates testified on two bills (HBs 712 and 713) put forward by Rep. Dan Shaul (R-Imperial) and Rep. Crystal Quade (D-Springfield), respectively, to create a pilot program to address the Cliff Effect specifically as it relates to when working parents lose ALL child care subsidies over often miniscule raises. Read more.  Reach out to the House Children and Families Committee members, tell them your experience with this, and urge them to approve this legislation.
 
 
We thank Rep. Cora Faith Walker (D-St. Louis County) for filing HB 847which would require training about trauma and trauma-informed approaches as part of preparation to become a teacher. Email or call the House Special Committee on Urban Issues in support of the bill.
 
 
Our Human Rights Task Force members testified in support of SB 287, to reduce bias in policing. Encourage Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence committee members to approve this legislation.
 
 
That was the good news.
 
 
The state legislature is trying to keep St. Louisians from the raise in the minimum wage they passed 2 years ago. HCS HBs 1193 & 1194 are moving quickly, having been introduced, heard, and passed through the House chamber all last week. They might try to push this through the Senate before Legislative Spring Break (March 17-24). Tell your senator this bill deserves time for debate and discussion, not a rubber stamp. Let your senator know you support a higher minimum wage and local control and want to defeat these bills; watch our Facebook page for announcement of a hearing or any floor debate.
 
 
 We stand up to discrimination.We're watching a number of bills that attack workers by weakening employment non-discrimination protections in the MO Human Rights Act (SB 43, HB 550, HB 552, HB 676) and by requiring arbitration (SB 45).
We ought to be passing stronger worker protections like the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act (MONA), not undermining civil rights protections that took decades of blood, sweat and tears to secure. Watch Facebook and Twitter for developments throughout the week. It was while testifying on these bills earlier in the session that MO NAACP Pres. Rod Chapel was cut-off from testifying.
 
 
 
Go back up to the top and read that good news one more time. Then call your state rep. and senator and see if they've got time for a meeting with you and your friends while they're back in town for Spring Break, or if they're doing a town hall. If so, let us know and we'll share public events with others on social media. Thank them for their service and make sure they know how you'd like to see them representing you.