Independence resident Mary Jo Moore says her reason to help others with major issues is because of her faith in God.
“All of my actions are based on my Christian tradition,” she said.
That’s why she helped start the Eastern Jackson County Justice Coalition to increase advocacy for a variety of justice and equality issues. Some of those include Medicaid expansion in Missouri and payday lending reform.
Because of her efforts, the Independence unit of Church Women United will present Moore with its annual Human Rights Award at 10 a.m. next Monday at First Christian Church.
“Mary Jo has helped convene people for the common good of those in the area,” said Susan Lundquist, a board member of the Independence unit of Church Women United. “I think that’s a big plus.”
The group says “the award is presented annually to a person who is well known for their work either as an individual or in their personal life in upholding the principles of human equality and dignity and the commitment to protect and advocate for the rights of all.”
“When they told me I was like, ‘What? For real?’” Moore said. “I didn’t quite know how to respond. Lately my time has been spent being a grandma, exercising and being the president of my church.”
But Moore said she was concerned by a number of issues affecting working-class families, including the interest rates of payday loans. The Eastern Jackson County Justice Coalition worked with other groups in the state to start a petition to cap payday loan interest at an annual rate of 36 percent.
“Payday loans decimate people who most need the money and (the interest rate) not well regulated in Missouri,” Moore said. “It really contributed to bankruptcies and family dysfunction. It hurts consumers by getting trapped in payments they cannot afford These are people who can’t get a small loan at a bank. They are exploited.”
“We got all the signatures, but we were out-lawyered and in court we were defeated. We’re still facing that battle.”
The coalition, however, makes citizens aware of alternatives to typical payday loans with “a more reasonable interest rate” like Holy Rosary Credit Union.
“If someone needs money and fast, there has to be a way to get cash fast,” Moore said, “but we don’t want them to pay for it for the rest of their lives and destroy their families.”
One battle her coalition won was having fewer places that offer small-dollar loans and pawn shops. The coalition raised the awareness of the issues with payday loans and that was part of the reason the city of Independence passed regulations to place limits on those companies.
Her coalition also fought to get utility rates in Independence lowered in the past because Independence Power and Light considered raising rates. She and other concerned patrons of the coalition voiced their concerns City Council members. The council in recent months has cut rates.
Her coalition also helped bring awareness to an issue of Independence Power and Light disconnecting service when it was extremely hot or cold outside. The company changed its rule in 2014 that states it will not shut off utilities for non-payment when the 24-hour forecast predicts temperatures 32 degrees or colder, 95 degrees or hotter or a heat index greater than 105 degrees.
One other major issue: The Eastern Jackson County Justice Coalition has advocated for Medicaid expansion.
“We took many trips to Jefferson City to visit our legislators about that,” Moore said. “We wanted to increase the income (cap) someone could have so more could receive Medicaid.”
“Missouri just kicked a lot of people off of Medicaid,” she said.
Added Lundquist: “If you were a single person, you don’t qualify for Medicaid. If you are dying of cancer, you may not qualify for Medicaid. There are interesting rules on receiving Medicaid. You have to make $248 per month or less to qualify for Medicaid or something like that. It’s unbelievable.”
Those are just some changes Moore has been a part of. However, noted that her coalition isn’t meeting once a month anymore like in the past, but they get together if there is a “call to action” on any local issue.
“There’s way too many in our society whose dignity is denied. There are still way too many issues,” Moore said. “We want to help the poor.”
“If the welfare of people was considered more often in legislative decisions, the world would be a better place.”