Missouri organization to invite legislators to try food stamp challenge
JEFFERSON CITY - A new federal report revealed Missouri is getting better when it comes to food security, but it's still doing worse than the national average.
One Missouri organization is now taking steps to help legislators understand what it is like to have a food shortage for themselves.
Empower Missouri will invite federal and state legislators to participate in the "SNAP Food Challenge," a task that would require them to shop like people that use food stamps. Executive Director Jeanette Mott Oxford said she hopes the challenge will help legislators understand the struggles of using food stamps.
"We're hoping it will be a dose of reality and a chance for people to develop deeper compassion," she said. "Justice does not prevail where prejudice exists, unfortunately."
According to the report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS), the 2018 food insecurity rate in the U.S. was 11.7 percent as compared to 12.0 percent in Missouri.
The same report by the ERS details that Missouri's level of food insecurity has dropped. The average between 2016-18 was 12 percent, down from 15.2 percent between 2013-15. Food insecurity also dropped 0.8 percent since 2017.
Oxford said there are often prejudices against people that are poor, and assumptions are often made because people have not experienced the difficulties for themselves.
"I think one of the main reasons we have such bad policy about poverty in our state and in our nation is that those of us that have comfortable incomes don't understand the challenges that are in the lives of people with low incomes," Oxford said. "So this is a chance to walk a mile in someone else's shoes and discover that the food stamp program is not some bloated overly generous government program."
The most vulnerable populations tend to be families with children, African Americans, Hispanics, and those living in rural areas, according to the report. Oxford said Missouri's abundance of rural communities is one of the biggest contributors to the state's above average level.
"There are challenges in rural areas because the lack of infrastructure there to solve problems like inadequate access to transportation," she said. "If you don't have access to where the job is, where the education is, where the healthcare is, it has a big impact on your ability to access those things."
Reports from the Missouri Department of Social Services show one in six Missourians in rural areas use food stamps compared to one in eight in urban communities.
Oxford said legislators who accept the food stamp challenge will be invited to Empower Missouri's annual conference in Columbia on November 9 to discuss their experience.