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I was taught at an early age that I owe a debt to my community. Both of my parents made a living by improving the lives of others. I have always been driven by a desire to make them, my community, and my ancestors proud. And it is that desire that calls me to policy work.
I was born and raised in Kansas City to middle-class parents who chose to remain deeply entrenched in the black community. For most of my young life, I grew up in some of the most challenged zip codes, from 64130 to 66104, and was conscious of the fact that my family had more than others in my neighborhoods.
“I owe the community in which I was raised, and that in many ways raised me — to help improve the circumstances of those that, if afforded the opportunity, would live fuller lives. That, in a nutshell, is public policy work.”
I saw the differences in my life and the opportunities I had, and I was aware that they were due to the exposures, resources, and relationships of my family compared to those of my neighbors and friends. And I felt guilt, because I knew that my upbringing in my household versus another was not of my own doing: it was a matter of fate or good fortune.
Many of my friends and neighbors were just as smart, just as talented, just as hard working, and just as loved — if not more — yet they were not afforded the same opportunities because of their life circumstances and barriers that exist in our society.
It was because of my upbringing that I have always felt that my blessings aren’t just my own and that they are to be put to work for others who have had less opportunity and faced greater challenges that I have.
I owe the community in which I was raised, and that in many ways raised me — to help improve the circumstances of those that, if afforded the opportunity, would live fuller lives. That, in a nutshell, is public policy work.
Public policy is the thread in the fabric of society. If it is strong, it binds us together. If it’s weak, it causes us to fall apart.
People often ask me what I do. Public policy is working to make life better for the community — locally, state-wide, and nationally. Public policy is the goal post for laws – the rationale, the end game, those things we as a society hold high and dear and what we aspire, as a community, to be.
Public policy is all around us. It’s in the air we breathe, the cars we drive, the roads we drive on, the houses we live in, the bank loans used to finance them, the schools we attend, the medical care we receive, and the opportunities we have to get ahead. It is the thread in the fabric of society. If it is strong, it binds us together. If it’s weak, it causes us to fall apart.
I’ve spent most of my career as a policy generalist. While working for Mayor Sly James, I was responsible for monitoring policy related to the city’s housing, workforce development, small business and entrepreneur support, economic development, and more. At the Civic Council, I was primarily focused on the economic inclusion of historically marginalized residents of the Kansas City region.
The opportunity to join Health Forward Foundation came at the beginning of the largest public health crisis thus far in my lifetime. And it provided me with the platform to put my prior work to use in impacting the social determinants of health to achieve equitable health outcomes in the Kansas City region.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on so much of what needs fixing in our society, forcing us to take a hard look at ourselves.
We now have a unique opportunity for policy changes to ensure that those individuals and families most negatively impacted by COVID-19 have their shot at quality jobs, education, transportation, housing, capital, and health care.
Our first step is to pass Medicaid expansion in Missouri.
Approximately 230,000 Missourians would benefit from Medicaid expansion. Many of these Missourians earn incomes of less than $18,000 per year or are no longer employed because of COVID-19. Roughly 36,000 residents in the black community stand to benefit from Medicaid expansion, many of whom are front-line workers or hold essential jobs that make missing work or working from home nearly impossible.
Medicaid expansion would also help our veterans and those near retirement, to whom we owe a debt for their contributions. An estimated 16,000 jobs are expected to result from expanding Medicaid, improving the financial situation of individual Missourians and the state economy.
The state of Missouri and Missouri taxpayers already pay the federal government for Medicaid expansion that we do not have.
However, because we have not adopted expansion in Missouri, the $1 billion we pay to the federal government a year goes to other states for the medical expenses of their residents, instead of coming back to us to support our own residents.
This money — this $1 billion we are all paying — could and should be invested in the Missouri economy to aid in our economic recovery, and to make our neighbors healthier.
Medicaid expansion is an issue for all of us. It’s a bi-partisan, rural, and urban issue that impacts our public health and our economy. It will improve health outcomes for many Kansas Citians and afford greater freedom to thrive.
As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
With Medicaid expansion, we have the opportunity to reduce the inequities and injustices that exist in our health care system. I am excited to be at Health Forward, particularly during this time, to advance this work.
You can connect with McClain on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
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