Health care, mental health care and child care shortages were among a myriad of health and social services issues Gov. Mike Parson targeted during the annual State of the State Address on Wednesday afternoon.
Parents have struggled for years in Missouri to find affordable, quality day care for their young children. The COVID-19 pandemic stressed already-shorthanded and underpaid day care providers, many of whom shuttered their doors because of rising costs and difficulty finding adequate staffing.
That led, Parson said, to many Missouri parents being forced to choose between working and staying at home and caring for their families.
"Prior to COVID-19," he said, "more than 50 percent of Missouri residents lived in an area with a shortage of child care. We know that problem has worsened with one third of facilities no longer open after the pandemic.
"We need to do better for our parents, children, providers and businesses."
The governor proposed three new child care tax credit programs. The programs are intended to improve child care facilities, support employers who support their workers with childcare assistance and allow child care workers to receive pay increases.
Parson also proposed $56 million in his budget to begin expanding pre-Kindergarten programs for all Missouri children in low-income families.
Another $78 million would be invested in child care subsidy rates for providers.
"Last year, we made historic investments in health and mental health, including the new State One Health Lab, which states across the nation are using as a model for their own plans," Parson said. "Now ... frankly, an area in which we are heartbroken to be failing is maternal mortality. Currently, Missouri ranks 44th in the United States for our abnormally high maternal mortality rate."
He described Missouri's rank as "embarrassing and unacceptable."
Missouri has been talking about that for years, Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, the House minority floor leader, said during a stand-up response immediately following the address.
"We've had lots of initiatives," Quade said. "We've had task force after task force looking at this issue."
So Quade said she was glad Parson is tackling it.
Parson proposed the state include $4.3 million in the budget for a new maternal mortality prevention plan to help address preventable deaths of expecting and postpartum mothers.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services estimates that 75 percent of maternal deaths are preventable with at least one meaningful change to treatment, Parson said.
The governor also proposed spending about $3.5 million to increase the number of youth behavioral liaisons. Liaisons are distributed among community behavioral health organizations to provide or coordinate training and consultation on behavioral health issues specific to youth for school personnel, juvenile justice and court staff. Missouri currently has 31 and the proposed budget would add 27.
Parson also wishes to transform rural community health by investing $15 million in creation of "hubs," at six rural hospitals. The hubs would address social determinants of health, thereby reducing hospitalizations and emergency room visits.