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, placing stress on governmental, community, household, and our staff and volunteer resources. I hope that you will pause for a moment to receive our thanks for what we accomplished together in the public policy storms of 2020 and to learn what you can do to help us make more progress for social justice in 2021.
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. Feeding America even projects that one in four children may not be getting a healthy amount of food , with Missouri’s overall food insecurity rate increasing from 12 to 16.4 percent. Our staff and coalitions have made an important difference through their advocacy:
- The Food Security Coalition has advocated for Missouri to secure additional benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), to suspend harmful rules like work hour documentation that are impossible to carry out safely during a public health emergency, and to block state-level punitive bills that would have cut tens of thousands of people off of SNAP. We also submitted comments to denounce proposed federal rule changes, which would have increased hunger. Our forceful remarks and those of national allies led to a positive court decision.
- 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 advocated.
Criminal justice reform took an ugly turn in our state, as progress that we had made toward “smart on crime solutions” in 2019 were abandoned for more failed “tough on crime” approaches. It was a great disappointment to us when Gov. Parson signed 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 which would have ordered more adult certification hearings for children under 18. We know that nothing good comes from trying children as adults or sentencing them to adult institutions. 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 must 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 the four coalitions that we staff and/or the monthly Empowering You webinars at which state and national experts deepened our knowledge of evidence-based policy options. 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.
You can take two actions today that will help us meet state-specific challenges:
- With a long list of co-sponsoring ally organizations, we are holding a post-election Racial Equity Summit to mobilize Missourians into campaigns for racial justice. Free registration for this summit is available thanks to generous Platinum Level Sponsorships from the Deaconess Foundation and from Maxine Clark and Bob Fox. Register now (if you haven’t yet) and encourage a friend to do so as well. We presently have more than 300 registrations. Can we get to 1000 by November 20? We can with your help!
- The Missouri General Assembly starts on Wednesday, January 6, and it is vital that Empower Missouri have a strong presence at hearings and during floor debate. Your donation at this link can ensure that your voices are heard on the food and shelter policy debate, second chances for those formerly incarcerated, juvenile justice, smart sentencing, and ending the criminalization of People Living with HIV.
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