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Commentary: Hungry Missouri families have reason to fear

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The U.S. House of Representatives last week voted by the slim margin of 217-210 to cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). The citizen advocates of Missouri Association for Social Welfare are deeply disappointed in this action and call for the U.S. Senate to reject cuts to this essential program.

Food Hardship 2008-2012: Geography and Household Structure, released by the Food Research and Action Center, found that in surveys from 2008-12, 24 percent of households with children in Missouri said there were times in the prior year when they did not have enough money to buy food they needed for themselves or their family. More than 17 percent of households without children in Missouri said they faced the same struggle, a rate that placed Missouri among the 15 states with the worst rates.

The Center’s analysis examines food hardship rates – the inability to afford enough food – for households with and without children. The complete report is available at the FRAC website. Findings for food hardship for surveys from Missouri include:

  • 24 percent of households with children in Missouri said they were unable to afford enough food. The food hardship rate for households without children was 17.1 percent.
  • For the Kansas City area, the food hardship rate for households with children was 20 percent and 15.3 percent for households without children.
  • For the St. Louis area, the food hardship rate for households with children was 21.3 percent and 13.3 percent for households without children.

Given these numbers, it is especially troubling to note that Missouri’s House delegation voted six to two in favor of the cuts. With a margin of victory of only seven votes, if Missouri’s congressional delegation had stood together on this bill, they could have stopped these dangerous cuts.
The Missouri Department of Social Services reports that more than 915,000 of our Missouri neighbors, about one in six, depended on food stamps in August 2013. The food stamps they spent went into local economies by being spent at area grocery stores – about $117 million last month alone.

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, this November all families on food stamps will see their benefits trimmed due to a scheduled reduction in SNAP. That cut will reduce the average Missouri food stamp benefit to about $1.30 a person per meal. We ask Missourians to eat on that budget for a week to understand how challenging this is.

If allowed to stand, the additional reductions endorsed by the House of Representatives will further erode the government’s response to hunger, putting even more stress on food pantries, communities of faith and others already overwhelmed by requests for help. Now is the time for every Missourian to call on the conference committee of House and Senate members to reject the SNAP cut madness. We must protect the nutrition programs that are so effective in improving child health and preventing hunger for low-wage workers.