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Janice Ellis

The state of Missouri, the “Show Me State,” is in the heart of America.

In addition to the sass and symbolism the nickname and location connote, what a great geographical and strategic position to be in — to lead, to bring about positive improvements in the lives of its citizens and be a great example for our nation.

How did Missouri come to be known as the “Show Me State?” While its origin is uncertain, there are several stories. But irrespective of the exact origin, the nickname has stuck and is flaunted proudly in casual and serious conversations among Missourians. Why not let it propel the state to greatness? While proclaiming something must be shown to us, why aren’t we showing others?

What is the “Show Me State” showing its citizens and the nation? Are the policies and actions being adopted achieving the greatest good for Missourians? Should those policies and practices be emulated as good examples for the nation? Let’s look at a few critical areas.

The first that comes to mind is how the state of Missouri has responded to the coronavirus. As of this writing, the state has one of the lowest vaccination rates among states in the nation. As a result, the state is experiencing the highest COVID-19 hospitalizations and second highest rate of new infections in the country from the Delta variant.

It wasn’t that long ago that vaccines were being returned because there was no demand for them.

Where does the blame lie for this detrimental turn of increased cases? There is blame to be spread. From policy, or the lack thereof, to the persistent disinformation, and to those who simply refuse to take the vaccine or wear a mask. When there is a crisis of pandemic proportion, we all have responsibility and a role to play. The response has been a disservice to Missourians.

What missed opportunities to be an example for the nation.

Ineffectively fighting the coronavirus is symptomatic of a larger health care delivery problem. There is the perpetual challenge of providing health care services to some of the neediest Missouri citizens, including mental and physical health care for the homeless.

Citizens of Missouri voted for Medicaid Expansion to enable the state to do just that. But guess what? Many of the very elected officials you voted vote to represent your interests have ignored and subverted the will of the people by refusing to pass legislation to fund Medicaid Expansion, which would provide those needed health care services. Why?

Failing to provide good healthcare options is not the only area where the “Show Me State” has little to brag about. The state also has a serious deficit of affordable and available housing. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Missouri has a shortage of 122,075 homes. How can this be when the Missouri Housing Development Commission, which oversees affordable housing, has hundreds of millions of unrestricted dollars that could be applied in a more urgent way to address the growing housing shortages for low income families?

As you might expect, the housing problem is especially acute in Missouri’s largest cities of St. Louis and Kansas City. But there is also a shortage of affordable housing in smaller cities and rural communities across the state. Even more critically are the housing needs for a growing homeless population, which has been more exacerbated by the pandemic.

There is no excuse for not being able to provide adequate shelter for the homeless.

Let us not forget about how the “Show Me State” fairs when it comes to crime.

Let the statistics speak for themselves. “Missouri has the fourth-highest murder rate of 11.3 murders per 100,000 residents. Murders in Missouri are disproportionately concentrated in metropolitan areas – about 90% of murders committed in 2017 in Missouri were committed in metropolitan areas. St. Louis and Kansas City are two of the most dangerous cities in the United States.”

But all major cities in Missouri are not blemished by high crime rates.

What further confounds the apparent inability or the lack of will to address these debilitating problems in the “Show Me State” is the fact that Missouri has a growing surplus of available funds, reaching record levels, that can be applied to help solve them.

Rather than holding back that record surplus, which belongs to taxpayers, or bickering and debating about how it should be or should not be spent, why not apply some of those dollars to obvious areas that so critically need resources, like the ones identified above. There exist many ways to get it done. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Missouri, like America, has many things that are good, but there is much more that can be done to make life better for its citizens.

Janice Ellis is author of award-winning books “From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream” and “Shaping Public Opinion: How Real Advocacy Journalism Should be Practiced.” She analyzes educational, political, social and economic issues. This commentary was published by The Missouri Independent.

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