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Don’t just sit there fuming because the Allen Icet entourage is attempting to turn down 100 million free Medicaid dollars for people earning less than half of poverty level. Get your little heinie down to the west side of the Old Courthouse in St. Louis this Sunday afternoon at 2:00 for a protest rally. Give the Post-Dispatch an excuse to publicize what the Republican House caucus is up to.

That was the most important message Jobs with Justice organizer Amy Smoucha had for me. She sees the budget fight in the state lege this year as seminal. Out of the current economic crisis and the stimulus funds being used to counter it, Missouri will emerge either as a state with smaller government and few, if any, social services (go ahead, guess which group wants that outcome) or as a state that is more responsive to the needs of the people in the community (and guess who wants that end result). Federal stimulus funds are coming, but Icet et.al. are doing their damnedest to take education and transportation money while concocting a succession of excuses for turning down additional Medicaid money, as well as for chopping … but I stray. I started out to tell you about Amy Smoucha. Let me reserve more info on the vagaries and cruelties of the House budget for the end of this posting.

Smoucha organizes statewide action on health care issues. She started out in the health care trenches as soon as she got out of college, working at Regional Hospital in St. Louis, where she helped people apply for Medicaid benefits. The job in itself was an eye opener because most of the people she helped were African-Americans. She’d been raised in a white, fairly racist culture in Chicago, but she was impressed by how similar her clients were to her own mother–a clerk at Sears, who had never had health insurance.

Amy had barely adjusted to the harsh reality of what her clients faced, when local and state officials began pushing to close down Regional Hospital, as well as neighborhood clinics in St. Louis. These were the only places where uninsured people could go for treatment–88,000 of them. The mantra from the officials was that other clinics would have to absorb those folks. As if that were possible.

A long fight, with ACORN in the forefront, ensued, with the result that the clinics were saved and a few hospital beds. Smoucha moved on to do similar work at Legal Services, but two years ago, she had had enough of holding her finger in the dike. She saw a job opening for a health care organizer posted at Jobs with Justice and she went for it. She wanted to effect systemic change instead of–always and forever–only helping people into lifeboats while the Titanic slips lower into the water.

Now Smoucha works to make Missourians aware that this health insurance crisis affects us all: from those that have insurance but have to forgo raises because the insurance is costing their employers so much money, to the low wage workers who don’t have insurance at all. She sees her job as helping to build a movement toward affordable health care for all. That means working across party lines (and, after all, Jobs with Justice is a non-partisan 501c3).

Missouri is quite the challenge for someone like her. Try as she will to convince working people that they need elected officials who understand the need for health care for all, she knows full well that our state is a proving ground for competing ideologies. To illustrate, I give you two words: Allen Icet.

In addition to spurning the 104 million free dollars that is being made available in Medicaid funds for people earning less than half the poverty level, the House Appropriations Committee is also slashing social services, thus effectively refusing to use federal stimulus money on those areas.

The Missouri Budget Project estimates that based on the proposed funding cuts, at least 77,120 Missourians will be directly impacted by the cuts. At a minimum, Missouri will forfeit $232 million in critical federal funds which, could result in a loss of as many as 5,100 Missouri jobs.

emphasis MBP’s

(MBP has an analysis of the proposed House cuts.)

Smoucha points out that Missourians won’t pay any less in federal taxes just because we snub federal stimulus funds. And might I add: This is nuts! Fortunately, there are enough sane Republicans in the Senate to help Democrats put the brakes on before the ideologues in the House can run the state train off a cliff. Senator Eric Schmitt, R-Kirkwood, assured attendees at last night’s town hall meeting that the Senate had voted this week to accept the bulk of that free Medicare money. As for the rest of the House cuts to social services, it remains to be seen how much the Senate will attempt to restore. Once their budget is complete, the two chambers will work to resolve the differences.

Meanwhile, Amy Smoucha is doing her part. She and the many people she works with are lobbying legislators, cooperating with local faith leaders to get out the message about how cuts in the state budget are harming the poor, urging activists within her purview to write letters to newspapers and call legislators–not just to leave a message, either, but to request that the lawmaker call them back or at least write a response. And right now, Smoucha is looking forward to that rally at the Old Courthouse this Sunday and arranging for media coverage.

So, as I said, get your little heinie down there. We need bodies for the local TV stations and the Post-Dispatch to photograph. I’ll be there videotaping it. See ya.

This posting is the third in a regular series about activists that I’m writing with the assistance of the St. Louis Activist Hub. The first two postings are here and here.