Food hardship continues in Missouri

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JEFFERSON CITY - A new report by a national anti-hunger advocacy group shows Missourians are still struggling to feed themselves. 

According to a new report released by the Food Research & Action Center, 14.2 percent of households in Missouri reported that they struggled to buy enough food during 2016-2017.

"How Hungry is America?" provides data on food hardship for every state. The report looks at rates overall, and then separately for households with children and households without children. 

It found households with children are particularly vulnerable to hunger. It found their food hardship rate nationally is about one-third higher than the rate for households without children. The rate jumped from 17.5 percent in 2016 to 18.4 percent in 2017. 

Missouri ranked 27 in the nation for food hardship, with one being the worst. 

The executive director for Empower Missouri, a former member of the Missouri House of representatives, said food hardship affects people in every community in Missouri. 

“Many parents skip meals so that their children can have more food, and this can impact on their health and job readiness,” Jeanette Mott Oxford said. “The size of the problem outlined in the FRAC report increases our urgency as we advocate for the strong, bipartisan version of the Farm Bill, which protects and strengthens the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”

Oxford said it's a crucial time for SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, because 80 percent of the farm bill is about nutritional assistance.

"Not just the SNAP program," she said, "but some commodity programs and some other essential helps for seniors and people with disabilities and kids are funded through that farm bill. But a lot of it is the SNAP program."

The Senate passed its version of the farm bill by a vote of 86-11, while the House passed its version by a vote of 213-211. The bill is now in conference. 

“The Senate passed a very strong bipartisan version of the farm bill,” she said. "And that bill improves the linkages between employers and people who are looking for work through the SNAP program. It has some funding for innovations and some pilots that are being done to see what really helps people on food stamps improve their employment situations." 

The House version includes controversial food stamp changes. It toughens work requirements for food stamp recipients. 

That bill requires adults aged 18-59 to work 20 hours a week in order to receive food stamps. 

Oxford said, "A lot of what the House bill does is it creates a very expensive and extensive work hour tracking system where it would have people on SNAP prove they're working 20 hours a week."

She said taking away food stamps because of a five-hour difference in work week "is a really cruel way to go about trying to make things better."

Oxford said volunteering can help people be more aware of hunger in their neighborhood. 

"I think a lot of people don't know that food stamps only provide about $1.35 per person, per meal and that the cost of a healthy meal on average is about double that — around $2.80," she said.

Eric Maly, director of programs at the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, said a key problem is that a lot of people the Food Bank serves are either over the age of 60 or under 18.

"Those are people that aren't necessarily able to work and provide more income for their households," Maly said.