In 2017, Empower Missouri’s annual conference theme was Persisting and Organizing to Win. During the week of February 10, 2020, coalitions staffed by Empower Missouri demonstrated determination to make that theme reality by taking meaningful action for social justice on each day, Monday-Friday.
On Monday, February 10, the Affordable Housing Coalition met to review the more than a dozen pieces of legislation that have been filed in the Missouri General Assembly related to housing and homelessness. We especially focused on the hearing that had been scheduled for Senate Bill (SB) 549, legislation to reform and reinstitute the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). The hearing for this week was cancelled, but 186 individuals and organizations have now signed our letter about LIHTC that will be delivered when the bill is heard. It is not too late to add your name at this link.
On Tuesday, February 11, Empower Missouri and a wide variety of organizations across the ideological spectrum, plus religious and business organizations, testified in support of SB 647, the Fresh Start Act, in the Senate General Laws Committee. Several of the organizations are members of the Smart Sentencing Coalition. This bill would increase employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals by removing many barriers to obtaining and keeping professional licenses. Messages of support for SB 647 to Senate General Laws are in order.
On Wednesday, February 12, the Food Security Coalition surged into action as the House Committee on General Laws heard bills related to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP). House Bill (HB) 1708 would increase hardship for families on TANF by banning access to cash at ATM machines through the use of Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. HB 1785, according to the fiscal note, would lead to tens of thousands of Missourians, including children, losing access to nutritional help through SNAP.
Members of House General Laws commented that their committee seemed an unusual choice for the subject matter and out of their area of expertise. More importantly, several members of the committee, from both sides of the aisle, told stories of how public benefits programs had helped their families when they were children. One representative invited the committee to remember that her current success as a state representative was assisted by the nutritional foundation she received through public programs. Great things happen when personally impacted people tell their stories, whether legislators or their constituents.
On Thursday, February 13, our criminal justice advocates again moved into action to support HB 2304, legislation offering an opportunity for a parole hearing to certain older prisoners. Evidence shows that most people “age out” of crime and that persons over 50 seldom re-offend.
Wrapping up the week, the MO HIV Justice coalition plans a call at 1 p.m. today, February 14, as we prepare for a hearing on HIV Policy Modernization legislation in about two weeks. We were excited to see HB 1691 referred to House Judiciary on Feb. 10 and look forward to continued progress to #endthestigma and #changethelaw.
We celebrate that Molly Pearson will be joining the call today as the new Justice Organizer for our coalition work on HIV issues. Some of you may remember Molly from her internship with us in 2019 while she was completing her MSW at Brown School, Washington University.
Our constant vigilance, persistence and organizing for social justice in the state capital comes with a cost. Won’t you invest in our work to keep advocates informed and mobilized about legislation that would either support or harm our most vulnerable neighbors?