Witnesses: House bill could transform local recovery services

A bill that would give a 50 percent tax credit to people who donate to organizations providing recovery support services received unanimous praise during a hearing before a Missouri House committee.

Eight witnesses testified before the House Corrections and Public Institutions Committee in support of House Bill 1028, sponsored by Rep. Travis Smith, R-Dora. Many witnesses gave personal accounts about how addiction recovery programs, like Healing House and New Beginnings, could help change lives.

"We believe that whenever women's hearts get changed, that the communities then get changed," said Rebecca Schuessler, the program coordinator Healing House and New Beginnings, a nonprofit in Jefferson City that helps people recover from substance use issues.

Currently, the Healing House has living space for 25 women recovering from substance use disorders. Schuessler said the organization doesn't have enough space for many of them to have their children with them.

"We are looking to expand and, with that, be able to house children. I got my children back in 2020 and came to Healing House in 2019, ever since then it has just been beautiful," Schuessler said. "My kids have gotten to grow up in a recovery house, but we don't have enough space to allow the other 25 women to have their children. So with this tax credit bill, we would be able expand and to house the women and children."

The bill was written with input by Greg Smith from the Missouri Coalition of Recovery Support Providers (MCRSP). Prior to working with MCRSP Smith was the chief operating officer of Healing House and was the director of development for Mission Gate Prison Ministries.

Many witnesses, shared their experiences with Mission Gate Ministries, and Smith himself, and how the organization changed their lives. Mission Gate is based in Chesterfield, but has houses and programs that serve people inside and outside of prisons across Missouri.

"This bill would directly impact the people that are donating into our organization. I came to Mission Gate in 2018 from prison, and it really just gave me the chance to not only grow in the Lord, but to become a member of society again," said Joyce Fields, the program coordinator with Mission Gate Ministries.

Fields testified before the committee alongside James Fields and their two children. Joyce Fields said that during her time at Mission Gate's Hannah's Ranch program, the organization had helped reunite more than 60 children with their mothers. James Fields said the Mission Gate men's program also helped around 300 people a year.

"My story is very similar," James Fields said. "About 13 years ago, Greg Smith picked up a wild-haired, crazy looking guy from the bus stop that just got out of prison. I was a person that parole boards had said not to accept. I sit before you with 13 years of sobriety, with my life completely changed thanks to programs like Mission Gate."

The committee's chairman, Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, thanked them and their children for coming to testify.

"This will help us, going forward, to give that same opportunity to other people that are going through that," James Fields said.

Another witness, who had just been picked up by Mission Gate that evening, also offered support for the bill.

"Thank you for coming forward and, hopefully, you will have a lifetime of sobriety," Veit said to the witness.

Marsha Hawkins-Hourde, the executive director of the Child and Family Empowerment Center in St. Louis, also testified in favor of the bill.

"I'm asking you all to partner with us to help save lives," she said. "This is about saving lives, restoring lives, reuniting families, helping us with public safety."

Veit also thanked Hawkins-Hourde for her testimony, saying she was filling a role that "government alone cannot."

The bill would not permit any donors to financially benefit from their donations, like organizations they have a direct financial relationship with. The tax credits will be distributed by the Department of Mental Health, with a maximum limit of $2.5 million per year.

No more than 20 percent of the total credits can be for donations to a single organization. Contributions must explicitly assist people in recovery from substance use disorders.

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