If you are poor, hungry live in Missouri, you don’t need a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to tell you how bad things are. Those Missourians who are more fortunate need to know. Every year, the USDA issues its “food security” report, which analyzes hunger problems across the country. In Missouri, the news is very, very bad.
In a state that is getting used to ranking poorly in things that count — like education funding, poverty and health-care outcomes — Missouri is No. 1 in a dubious category for the second year in a row.
Over the past decade, as a percentage of population, more Missourians have fallen into hunger, defined in the report as “very low food security,” than in any state in the nation.
All of Missouri’s rankings in the hunger report got worse in 2013 compared to 2012.
Nearly 17 percent of Missourians reported being food insecure, meaning at least once last year, in most cases several times, they skipped meals for lack of money. That’s the fifth-highest percentage in the nation, up two spots from 7th the year before.
Worse, more than 8 percent of Missourians reported more severe hunger, defined as “very low food security,” second only to Arkansas in terms of the dubious ranking. Here’s where the numbers get really bad, and they don’t show up in the USDA report: Over the past year, as Missouri’s hunger problems got worse, fewer Missourians had access to food stamps to help feed their families.
St. Louis activist Glenn Koenen has been collecting food stamp numbers from the Department of Social Services for the past year. Mr. Koenen is the chairman of the hunger task force for the Missouri Association of Social Welfare, and the former executive director of the Circle of Concern food pantry in Valley Park. His research indicates that nearly 90,000 fewer Missourians have access to food stamps than they did a year ago. These aren’t people who have magically found jobs and improved their economic status, but people who have been frustrated by the system.
Over the past few years, the administration of Gov. Jay Nixon has reorganized the Family Support Division, which administers important health-care and food programs to the poor, in an effort to save money. The same problems that have caused a backlog in Missourians trying to get access to the Medicaid insurance they qualify for has affected the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Progam (food stamps).
“I have talked to pantry folk who routinely hear from families who have waited two and three months for a routine re-authorization of the food stamp account,” Koenen wrote in an email. “Many pantry customers talk of lost documents, the inability to talk to a person who knows their case when they call, and, general confusion in the system.”
This is a tragedy and an embarrassment. It should shame every politician and bureaucrat in Jefferson City. Missourians are better than this. Statistically, the hunger problem in Missouri is getting worse, caused by ongoing and rampant poverty, and yet the government’s ability to provide aid to those who qualify under even weak guidelines is hampered by poor funding and mismanagement.
Simply put, there aren’t enough social workers to get the job done in a state that has public policies which are making the economy worse, not better.
In January 2013, current and former GOP speakers of the Missouri House gathered in the Capitol to celebrate a decade of Republican control in the Legislature. Among the honorees was former Speaker of the House Rod Jetton, who used to brag about being on food stamps in his college days, before he and the speakers who followed him committed to making Missouri tougher on people who are hungry.
In cutting taxes in a low-tax state, Missouri Republicans have made it harder to take care of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.
In fact, hundreds of thousands of Missourians, in big cities and rural counties alike, still live in poverty. For them, the recession never ended. For them, record profits on Wall Street are a vicious joke.
The numbers don’t lie. In the past decade, hunger has gotten worse in the Show-Me State. Ever more Missourians are going hungry. Food stamps only provide $1.46 per meal in Missouri, but state government’s response has been to make it harder for them to get help. And then government brags about it.
This is a tragic legacy. It should not be celebrated, but fixed.
(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 9/22/14)