Food for thought

Residents seek answers at Lunch in the Park
Wednesday, July 20, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:01 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

Gov. Matt Blunt’s Healthy Missourians Initiative wasn’t the only thing being served when he joined Columbians for lunch in Douglass Park on Tuesday. Medicaid and job cuts were also issues that residents such as Reba Newman hoped the governor would consider.

Blunt’s visit to Columbia was part of a statewide tour to unveil the Healthy Missourians Initiative. The program aims to prevent obesity and other chronic diseases by providing training and support for schools, families and other groups.

The governor’s attendance was part of Lunch in the Park, a program sponsored by the Voluntary Action Center and the Columbia/Boone County Health Department. The program provides a healthy lunch to youngsters on weekdays through Aug. 19.

Though some received the governor with cameras and conversation, others were not as cheerful about seeing him.

Newman brought her 9-year-old daughter, Rickiesha, to have lunch but said she came primarily to express her discontent with the governor.

“I’m not excited about him being here,” Newman said. “This is just a one-day event that he’s at; he’s not going to be here the next day, or the next month, to feed my kids.”

Newman received a letter May 31 telling her she would no longer have a job due to state budget cuts.

“I worked in the Department of Agriculture for six years,” she said. “He comes in for three months and gets rid of my job.”

Blunt addressed the jobs issue as he was leaving the park. “The government is not a jobs program; the government is a program to provide services to taxpayers.”

Newman’s daughter expressed her feelings with tears. She covered her face and cried, unable to talk about her mother’s unemployment.

Newman also complained about the Medicaid cuts that Blunt helped push through the legislature. “Because of cuts in Medicaid, I’ve had to switch my daughter to her father’s insurance program,” she said.

Before his speech, Blunt walked around greeting smiling children and parents, and posed for pictures. He also helped serve lunch to the children by passing out milk in a line of volunteers.

While fielding questions from reporters, Blunt defended the Medicaid cuts and noted that the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, remains intact.

“No child is impacted by Medicaid,” he said.

Blunt spokeswoman Jessica Robinson said after the event that one in six Missourians continue to receive social welfare from the state.

Carrie Flener has been a volunteer at Lunch in the Park for three weeks. Flener said the governor’s appearance sends mixed messages.

“I think it’s kind of a double standard of what his priorities are,” Flener said. “It’s going to be really hard for me to stand here today and watch him serving kids, knowing that he’s hurting them in another way.”

Robinson said citizens must realize that the alternative to budget cuts is higher taxes.

“The governor made a very hard decision, and he had to make some cuts so taxes would not increase,” she said.

Heather Baer, spokeswoman for the Columbia/Boone County Health Department, was glad to have Blunt come to speak.

“Today, we’re trying to focus on obesity and how to end it,” Baer said. “I’m glad the governor is starting this program, and I’m excited to have him come.”

LeAnn Linear, a staff worker for Nanny’s Daycare in Columbia, brought several children to enjoy a free lunch. Linear said she is unhappy with how Blunt is handling Medicaid.

“I think his being here is a cover-up for the real issue,” Linear said. “If they’re chopping up Medicaid, and some families don’t have it, where do they turn to?”

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