Empower Missouri has fought for all Missourians to have basic human needs and equal justice since 1901, and there have undoubtedly been many challenges to address throughout those decades. But 2020 has been an historic year in which wave upon wave of crisis arrived, putting stress on government, community, household, and our staff and volunteer resources. With your help, we have moved Missouri forward, and we come to you with this year-end appeal for the financial resources needed to keep our voice strong during these very hard times.
Since forty percent of Missourians have lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a massive increase in food and housing insecurity has been created in Missouri. This has made our education and advocacy even more crucial, and with your help, we have had victories:
- Our Food Security Coalition was able to get Missouri to suspend harmful rules like work hour documentation that are impossible to carry out safely during a public health emergency. We secured additional benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and blocked state-level punitive bills that would have cut tens of thousands of people off of SNAP. Along with national allies, we submitted forceful comments that led to federal courts ruling in our favor, stopping SNAP cuts proposed by the Trump Administration.
- The Affordable Housing Coalition successfully secured rental assistance funds in the federal relief bills and saw the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program re-started with some of the reforms that we had called for in the Spring.
Criminal justice reform took an ugly turn in our state last summer when Gov. Parson signed the “tough on crime” package, Senate Bill 600, into law over our objections. Our Smart Sentencing Coalition did not give up, however, and we were able to block Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 12 during Extraordinary Session 1. These would have ordered more adult certification hearings for children under 18. Black children have historically been six times more likely to be certified to stand trial as adults, a stain on our juvenile courts system that we are determined to end.
The Missouri HIV Justice Coalition also made progress toward ending HIV stigma and changing Missouri’s outdated, cruel, and medically inaccurate HIV-specific criminal codes. House Bill 1691 was voted out of the House Judiciary Committee 16-0 as well as clearing Rules before stalling out in the pandemic-shortened Legislative Session.
All of these successes occurred because you responded when we asked you to take action. Many of you helped us plan and carry out these campaigns by attending meetings of at least one of the four coalitions that we staff and/or the monthly Empowering You webinars at which policy experts deepen our knowledge of evidence-based options. Perhaps you also joined our annual meeting for 2020, the November 20th Racial Equity Summit which was viewed by more than a thousand Missourians thus far! You have our deep thanks for being a faithful voice for justice.
But the storm is not over. With COVID-19 numbers continuing to rise in Missouri, it appears that the fourth quarter of 2020 may be even more turbulent than the first quarter when the public health emergency was first declared. There will be many challenges in 2021 as current eviction moratoriums are set to expire, and the U.S. Senate has not yet signaled a willingness to provide the additional and robust package of relief that our state so desperately needs. We must keep up our advocacy at the federal level.
Additionally, the Missouri General Assembly convenes on Wednesday, January 6. It is vital that we have a strong presence at hearings and during floor debate. Your donation in the enclosed envelope can ensure that your voices are heard on food and shelter policy decisions, second chances for those formerly incarcerated, juvenile justice, smart sentencing, and ending the criminalization of People Living with HIV. You also may give online at www.empowermissouri.org if that is more convenient, and many of our supporters are now choosing to be a “Sustainer” by designating a monthly gift online. Gifts of $10 per month are affordable for many and add up to make us stronger!
We know that the “old normal” before the pandemic left many out of safety and prosperity. The storms of 2020 can be the changing point, ushering in compassionate and evidence-based public policy – but only if we each do our part to make it so. We are glad to be on this journey with you.
Jeanette Mott Oxford
Director of Policy and Organizing