Flint Fowler

When children have the opportunity to live up to their potential and pursue their dreams, they can bring limitless value to our community and our state.

This belief guides our work at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis. We strive to inspire and enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to live up to their promise as productive, responsible, and caring citizens. We do this through after-school and teen programs, mentoring opportunities, health clinics, and more. And we are counting down the days until we open the Teen Center of Excellence facility in Ferguson, which will focus on workforce development and academic achievement.

But there is more work to be done to ensure children in the St. Louis region and across our state have the resources and support they need to thrive. The good news? We are fast approaching a once-in-a-decade opportunity to create a stronger, healthier future for Missouri’s children and families. The better news? We can all take part.

I’m referring to the 2020 Census. In just a few months, each and every one of us will have the opportunity to be counted. But what does that mean for our children?

Census response rates are used to make sure states get their fair share of public funds. They help determine how many Missouri kids get free lunch at school. How many hospitals stay open to provide care to our most vulnerable neighbors. How many libraries can open our children’s imaginations.

But historically children are among the most undercounted populations. For every person who goes uncounted, Missouri gives up thousands of federal dollars. The 2020 Census is our chance to make sure our children, and our community, get the attention and investment we deserve.

And this is critical because, today, there are too many children whose basic needs are not being met. The network of safety net programs and services that help Missouri families in times of need is already stretched thin. We need them to be supported adequately and focused on what Missouri children and families really need.

Medicaid provides vital coverage for children – including those with special needs – who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get the care they need to grow and thrive. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) protects the 17 percent of Missouri children who were food-insecure at some point during 2016 by ensuring that families who are struggling to get by have enough food to put on the table. And Shelter Plus Care vouchers provide housing support to Missouri households, 75 percent of which have children.

Together with local organizations like ours, these programs ensure that our children have access to health care, nutritious food, shelter, and other resources they need to live up to their potential. And in the end, our entire community sees the net benefit.

So, let’s all step up. Let’s do it for the kids.

To our state leaders: let’s prioritize the census so that our state gets the resources it needs to better serve all Missourians.

To the many individuals and organizations serving the St. Louis community: let’s do our part to make sure every resident is aware of the census and gets counted.

To everyone: mark your calendars for April 1, 2020, because the census is just around the corner.

Flint Fowler, PhD, is president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis, which has partnered with Missouri Foundation for Health and its #TheNetBenefit campaign. Find out more at www.thenetbenefit.org.

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