Hundreds of church-goers from close to two dozen area churches committed Thursday night to embrace goals for the coming year that -- in light of Ferguson’s recent racial unrest – appeared to take on more urgency.
The goals? Press the Missouri General Assembly even harder to expand Medicaid. Commit to improving public education. And evangelize the importance of voting, as part of a broader push for more community involvement.
The forum was organized by Metropolitan Congregations United, a coalition of almost two dozen area churches.
The diverse crowd packed midtown’s landmark St. Alphonsus Catholic Church – aka “The Rock” – to hear speaker after speaker over 90 minutes make clear that achieving the aforementioned goals was important to achieve post-Ferguson healing and reconciliation.
“We have water that we cannot drink!’’ declared the Rev. Dietra Wise-Baker, as she used the phrase repeatedly as an analogy to describe the social costs of not expanding access to health care, overhauling education or staunchly opposing proposed legislative restrictions to voting.
The audience included at least seven state legislators, all Democrats, as well as St. Louis County Councilman Steve Stenger, the Democratic nominee for county executive.
The speeches were particularly passionate about the importance of persuading the GOP-controlled General Assembly to drop its resistance to expanding Medicaid. About 300,000 Missourians would be added to the state’s rolls, with the federal government covering all the added costs through 2016, and at least 90 percent thereafter.
The state already has lost more than $2 billion in federal money that would have covered all the added costs in 2014. Republican legislative leaders generally oppose expanding government’s role in providing health care or health insurance, and also believe that the federal government can’t afford the longterm costs.
Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, and former Gov. Christopher “Kit” Bond, a Republican, have spent much of the last 18 months trying to persuade the General Assembly to change its mind. All seven legislators attending Thursday’s forum stood up to pledge their support for expansion.
Rev. Emmett Baker – who got arrested during a pro-Medicaid rally at the Capitol last session -- told Thursday night’s audience that his adult daughter might not have died of a blood clot if she had had access to the coverage.
His daughter had a job, but it provided no health insurance benefits, he said. “Medicaid expansion is about life and death in Missouri,’’ the pastor declared.
Several speakers cited recent closures of medical clinics and ambulance services in rural Missouri, which have been blamed on the decision against expanding Medicaid. The federal government is phasing out payments to health care services for taking care of low-income people, because they would be covered by Medicaid if the state close to expand the program.
Regarding education, speakers called for “community learning centers’’ to help some children get the extra help they need, and a commitment to making sure all students are well-schooled in basic educational skills, notably reading and math.
Registering more voters, and opposing some restrictions, were touted as the best way to achieve MCU’s objectives in education and health care.
Congregations were asked to pledge to register 100 percent of their members, and help educate them about issues and candidates.