St. Joseph News-Press, Sept. 6
Fix levees before it's too late:
Finger-pointing does no good when there is work still to be done.
No one understands this better than the group of folks who have labored for 15 to 20 years to repair and improve the levees intended to protect this region from the ravages of another monumental flood on the Missouri River.
Oh, the impulse is there to blame: Blame Washington. Blame the Corps of Engineers. Blame our elected representatives, both national and local. Blame the leadership of the levee districts. Blame the public in general for losing interest.
The chief concern always will be whether this vital need was given the kind of urgent attention it required. And if it was, and still nothing happens, then what grade should we give the effectiveness of our community advocates?
This is where thoughtful observers are reminded we don't have the resources — money or expertise — to make this fix on our own.
The total cost for raising and shoring up the levees protecting St. Joseph, Elwood, Wathena and Rosecrans Memorial Airport now is pegged at $66.8 million — more than double what it was seven years ago.
The only silver lining is this is a refined estimate, much closer to the truth, and incorporates multiple changes to the levee restoration plan that were not part of the original estimate.
Design work has taken years and now calls for substantial improvements to both levees. The west levee will be raised more than 4 feet for a distance of 855 linear feet; the east levee will be raised nearly 1 foot for a distance of 1,315 linear feet.
That's a lot of earthwork, and it is going to cost tens of millions of dollars to accomplish. There is no way this gets done without the federal government picking up 65 percent of the cost — hence, the long and delicate dance that seeks to make this a funding priority for people who don't live and work here.
We think the local commitment of $23 million (or more) from the area levee districts, cities and counties will be forthcoming. But there is a real need for this project to become a priority at the national level — hopefully within the two-year window that is talked about among the most optimistic in local circles.
Those with influence in Congress — including representatives from places far from here — must come to understand we have been patient, but patience has its limits when a whole region is at risk for another serious flood.
The Kansas City Star, Sept. 5
Streetcar line earned targeted federal funds:
Kansas City's planned two-mile streetcar system doesn't have the potential, at least yet, to move many people. But it could help spur downtown development, and that's important progress.
To help, $20 million in federal support is on its way, as U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill announced, and for the right reasons. As she said, "This streetcar project will encourage housing, construction and business development in the city — and that will mean more jobs across the region."
We have long noted that fixed transit such as light rail and streetcars support development because investors know the rails — unlike bus routes — can't vanish overnight and undermine the economic value of a specific location.
Kansas City's streetcars will offer free trips from River Market to Union Station near Crown Center, delivering customers, workers and residents to the front doors of many buildings.
The Star last year opposed the too-narrow funding plan for the $100 million project, partly because it imposes a new property tax and a one-cent sales tax in a special transportation district in parts of downtown. The tax scheme won't support a broader system and could even impede the development it's supposed to encourage.
But voters approved the two tax increases, which brings us to good news about the new infusion of federal funds: They could help reduce the future burden on local property owners.
City officials must set aside enough money to build, operate and maintain the streetcar system. But if the city's two tax streams adequately finance all of that, the city eventually should reduce the streetcar property tax rate on businesses and residents.
Critics of the $20 million federal contribution have cried foul, contending it's another example of why the government is going broke. But U.S. transit funding has flowed to other cities for years, used wisely to reduce the need to construct massive and costly new highways.
In recent years, Kansas City taxpayers have funneled tens of millions of dollars into public and private developments to construct downtown parking garages. Future garage subsidies could be reduced, at least slightly, with a successful streetcar system that encourages people to get out of their cars.
The initial streetcar system is expected to start operating in 2015. Expansion plans already are in review, and they could boost the number of riders significantly by reaching into midtown and East Side neighborhoods.
Who knows? Those new spines might be well worth federal assistance, too.
Columbia Daily Tribune, Sept. 4
Bowing to reality on Medicaid expansion:
Republican governors are deciding it makes no sense to refuse Medicaid expansion under terms of Obamacare, even though fellow partisans are adamantly opposed.
"My approach is to not spend a lot of time complaining," said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. "We're going to do our level best to make it work as best we can." Other Republican governors adopting the same view are John Kasich of Ohio, Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Rick Snyder of Michigan and Rick Scott of Florida.
In Missouri, Democrat Jay Nixon holds the same view, but, unlike most other states in the nation, his/ours won't participate. Republican majorities in the Missouri General Assembly hold out, insisting that if they deny expansion, the Obama administration will have to offer a different plan, a foolish stance intended to stick it in the president's face while seeming to be willing to do a more modest expansion plan.
The fact is they would simply deny forever if they could get away with it.
So, Missouri will be a year behind other states implementing the law of the land, the reality other GOP governors recognize. In the meantime, we will not receive subsidies built into the law denying resources to hospitals and other care givers for the poor.
Hospitals and most physicians support the expansion, recognizing the need and crucial economic support for health care providers, particularly in rural areas.
Obviously, denying care for the indigent is contrary to the very concept of universal care. By their repeated actions, Republicans demonstrate they do not embrace that idea.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 7
Missouri holds the wrong distinction when it comes to hunger:
Of all the ways Missouri has grabbed national headlines in recent months, this might be the worst:
Missouri is No. 1 in the nation in hunger.
This distinction can be found in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's annual report on food insecurity, released on Wednesday, Sept. 4.
Never worry about where your next meal is coming from? You're food secure, like 85 percent of the people in the nation.
Unfortunately, nearly 1 in 6 Missourians, or 16.7 percent of them, are food insecure.
That means that at least once in the past year, in most cases several times, they skipped meals because they didn't have enough food. Money ran out. Or they got by on less nutrition than they needed just to spread out the food they could afford.
Last year, Missouri ranked 7th worst in the nation in food insecurity. For those more extreme hunger cases, classified as "very low food security," Missouri had the second highest rate in the country. Arkansas was first. Those with "very low food security" sometimes go an entire day without eating.
That's bad enough.
But when compared to the numbers from a decade ago, Missouri's negative change, that is the number of people falling into hunger, is worse than any other state in the nation.
It's important to put this marker of the state's real poverty in a political context.
This summer, the U.S. House for the first time since 1973 passed a Farm Bill that didn't include funding for the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program, or food stamps, the federal program that makes sure that many of the more than 17 million Americans who were food insecure at least once in 2012 can eat.
Luckily, the bill won't become law. But even if House Republicans eventually pass the SNAP program in a separate bill, they want to cut about $20 billion out of it.
So they can preserve subsidies for farmers, many of whom don't need the money.
Take the poster-child of the war on food for poor kids, Rep. Stephen Fincher, the Tennessee Republican who quotes the Book of Thessalonians — "Anyone unwilling to work should not eat" — to justify his vote against food stamps.
Never mind that he's taking the passage out of context, or that many hungry Americans are, indeed, working, Mr. Fincher's great hypocrisy is that he's one of Tennessee's largest recipients of the very subsidies to wealthy farmers that the Farm Bill protected.
Missouri's 4th District Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, is another of the hypocrites who voted to keep farm subsidies, like her family has received, while cutting food stamps for the poor.
Every Missouri Republican member of Congress voted for the Farm Bill without food stamps. Pitiful.
We're not sure it would make a difference, but they each need to read the USDA's food security report.
Or they need to talk to the folks at the St. Louis Area Foodbank, which this year is on pace to distribute 33 million pounds of food to the 26 counties it serves in Missouri and Illinois. That's 8 million more pounds of food than the Food Bank delivered last year. That is a massive jump. That's a lot of hungry mouths to feed. Much of that food goes to charitable food pantries that serve people who aren't on food stamps but still can't make ends meet.
"Anytime you talk about making cuts to SNAP, it only increases the burden on local pantries," said Food Bank spokesman Ryan Farmer.
If they think it's just an urban problem, they should head out to West County, where Circle of Concern food pantry officials were delighted to have their emptying shelves restocked recently by a full truck of food donations from Wildwood Christian Church. Yes, West Countians are food insecure, too. Lots of them.
Sadly, we shouldn't be surprised by the number of hungry Missourians. The food insecurity report mirrors the Kids Count report, that shows more than a quarter-of-a-million Missouri children living in poverty. The same report shows a similar trend, with the number of children and families in poverty in the Show-Me State consistently rising over the past decade, which coincides with the time that Republicans took over the Legislature and put a target on the back of poor kids, poor families, and the sort of government spending that keeps them afloat.
Is it any wonder that in the school districts in Missouri with the lowest test scores — rural or urban — the common denominator is a higher percentage of children who qualify for free-and-or-reduced lunch?
Hungry kids can't learn. Missouri has a lot of hungry kids.
Current Republican theology holds that if you cut taxes, jobs will follow, that government programs are rife with waste, fraud and abuse, that charity will provide. That hasn't always been the case with the GOP, a party which not long ago in its history recognized the important role a safety net plays in society.
Today, our corporations are sitting on mountains of cash, and our children are getting poorer and poorer, bringing down performance levels in schools lawmakers don't want to fund. The charities can't keep up.
This is our reality.
Missouri's low-tax, no-services philosophy has taken us right to the top.
We're number one in growing the percentage of our population that is hungrier today than a decade ago.
What a shameful distinction.