Within each school across Missouri, you will can see a microcosm of the importance and impact of safety-net programs. In our children, we recognize the core intent of safety-net programs: Our communities are stronger when our neighbors have access to food, shelter, health care and economic security.
Last year, 39 percent of students took advantage of free-and-reduced lunches in my district. Growing up in a middle-class home, that seems high. However, statistics show that Hallsville is relatively well-off because 49 percent of students took advantage of this program statewide.
To qualify for reduced meal prices, a household size of four would need to make $46,635 or less annually. When children are hungry, they are more likely to repeat a grade, experience developmental delays and have behavioral problems in school. When students’ nutritional needs are met, they are much more likely to succeed in school.
Students also need access to health services to succeed. Working families across Missouri benefit from the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid. This health insurance program is for children and youth ages 18 and under.
The income threshold for that same family of four is $73,800 — providing coverage to approximately 80,000 children statewide and ensuring our children can access the health care they need. Children who have health coverage and access to care have higher rate of school attendance, which directly influences student success.
Statistics tell the story of the importance and breadth of safety-net programs but so do personal experiences. I’ve witnessed how the safety net has helped families pick themselves up by their bootstraps.
My wife and I are foster parents. Our last foster placement was with two siblings, a 4-month-old and 5-year-old. For approximately 14 months, we walked alongside this family and fell in love with their two children who were in our home.
Throughout the journey of reunification, our foster kids’ family went from lacking sufficient housing to obtaining stable housing, thanks to our subsidized housing authority. Together, we attended WIC appointments for the baby and used WIC benefits as foster parents. I observed Medicaid work, providing our 5-year-old with speech therapy, allergy shots and counseling sessions that allowed him to better succeed in kindergarten.
When our kids are healthier, they are better prepared to learn and grow. Teachers, staff, administrators and school board members witness the impact of The Net Benefit on a daily basis when our kids are able learn and grow in stable environments.
My heart skips a beat trying to imagine a day at any of our Hallsville school buildings without the support of Medicaid, free-and-reduced lunches, subsidized housing, WIC benefits and other safety-net programs upon which our neighbors rely.
The Net Benefit is a nonpartisan education campaign to share how taking care of our residents who need help the most leads to strong communities and a stronger state.
Craig Stevenson is the director of public policy and advocacy at Kids Win Missouri and is a school board member in the Hallsville R-IV School District.
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