As a statewide advocacy organization, Empower Missouri is keeping an eye on what the state is doing or not doing regarding the issues we work on as they relate to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Empower Missouri has always done, we continue to work in coalition around these issues and advocate for evidence-based public policy wherever we can. Below are a few of the recommendations from our issue areas that we are asking the state to do as they relate to the pandemic.
Empower Missouri is a fierce advocate for a strong safety net, specifically as it relates to hunger. Over the past week, many of the strict rules regarding SNAP benefits have been waived or changed through passage of new federal laws or by federal waivers made by the USDA. We are grateful for these changes which make accessing SNAP, WIC and School Meals easier for families with low incomes.
Right now, the most important thing we are asking of the State is to widely spread the news of these changes to all SNAP, WIC and School Meal recipients. If families are not made aware of these changes, the changes are not going to have the intended results. The Department of Social Services has added a new page on their website highlighting these changes, but that is not enough. We are asking the state to make calls and to send letters to current SNAP recipients as well as to increase the amount of social media updates on these changes.
In addition to letting current recipients know of these changes, we are also asking the State to reach out to adults without children who had previously been on SNAP but had been cut off because of harsh time limits that apply to able-bodied adults without dependents. A new waiver went into effect that ended time limit rules for these neighbors when they are food insecure. This population can now potentially qualify for SNAP assistance again. As stated before, Missouri’s DSS needs to share this information far and wide. Calls and letters to past SNAP recipients as well as social media updates on these changes are needed.
Empower Missouri has worked on criminal justice for decades and has been focused on this issue intensively since the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation of those currently involved in the criminal justice system needs to be looked at and addressed during this crisis. Local efforts on the St. Louis side of the state to address this populations’ needs have been shared through a letter put together by our colleagues at Arch City Defenders. That letter can be found HERE.
As a state level organization, Empower Missouri is also looking at ways Missouri can help this population during this pandemic. Clearly prisons and jails are not set up well for social distancing and do not have existing budgets for special cleaning. We are working with the ACLU and Americans for Prosperity to draft a list of asks that we plan to take to the Governor, the Department of Corrections and their Division of Probation and Parole.
Our recommendations include things that Empower Missouri has been working on through legislative means for years, including:
Geriatric parole – where incarcerated persons who are 60 or older who meet certain requirements are granted release.
Changes to laws around technical violations – where technical violations of probation or parole will not result in arrest and detainment. Additionally, we ask that the DOC look at those incarcerated for technical violations, release them and implement a house arrest and electronic form of monitoring.
We lead a statewide coalition on affordable housing that has a very clear premise: what will it take for everyone in Missouri to have access to safe and affordable housing? The need for safety has increased exponentially with an extremely contagious virus causing havoc across the world. There are several things that can be done to help people facing housing insecurity:
Prevent new households from entering homelessness by helping people maintain the housing in which they currently live. This means a total freeze on eviction or foreclosure filings until at least 90 days after pandemic conditions end. In addition, there must be a moratorium on late fees for homeowners and renters and a rent ‘freeze,’ preventing landlords from increasing the price of rents until the crisis has passed.
Protect people experiencing homelessness. Our neighbors who do not have nightly shelter are at an increased risk of contracting the disease. They often have weaker immune systems and certainly have no tangible way to practice effective social distancing – especially during the heavy rains of spring in Missouri. Often libraries and community centers serve as washrooms for these individuals and families, and many of those places are shut down. We can follow the lead of other states and move people who are willing into shelter such as hotel rooms across the state. We also need to ensure homeless camps are not raided during these times and that we provide basic hygiene (mobile restrooms with handwashing stations) near camps for people who may not choose to move indoors.
For continued updates on what Empower Missouri is doing and for what actions you can take during this time, please check our Action Alert Page.