Missouri Food Banks Are Unprepared To Handle Food Stamp Cuts

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COLUMBIA - Many Missourians on food stamps will face challenges getting meals with the proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).

SNAP gets funding from the American Recovery Act and the Farm Bill.

The American Recovery Act will expire at the start of November cutting 10 million dollars from Missouri's SNAP funds. The SNAP cuts in the Farm Bill though could have a much more serious impact. The proposed cuts in the House version of the bill come close to 40 billion dollars and the Senate version totals four billion.

For Missouri, the House version cuts would mean an eight million dollar decrease every year for ten years, totaling an 80 million dollar cut. Glenn Koenen, Hunger Task Force Chair for Missouri Social Welfare, estimates this would cut five million meals in Missouri. He says, "the average benefit per person per meal in Missouri will drop from around $1.40 to about $1.30."

The director of the Missouri Food Bank Association Scott Baker said those cuts would have a serious impact on Missourians.

"If people don't have the proper nutrition, that's going to impact education, that's going to impact the productivity of our people, our economy so you are talking about a foundational issue when you talk about proper nutrition and that's what the SNAP program helps to provide," Baker said.

According to the USDA report on Household Food Scarcity, Missouri has the second highest rate of very low food security in the nation at 7.6 percent. Arkansas is the lowest at 8.6 percent. Baker said these cuts have come at a bad time, to say the least.

"The fact of the matter is hunger is very real in Missouri, and it's in every county of our state," said Baker. "People in Missouri are having a hard time choosing between their medications or food, their rent or food."

Darrell Black has received food stamps for fourteen years. He is currently unemployed and receives 27 dollars a month in food stamps. He used to receive 137 dollars.

"That affected me pretty bad, because it's not enough to live on," said Black.

He says he does not want to see his food stamps cut again.

"We need our food stamps to have food to live on and I just don't want it to decrease anymore than what it is," Black said.

All U.S. House Republican representatives in Missouri voted in favor of the 40 billion dollar SNAP funding cut. The two democratic representatives, Congressman Lacy Clay and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II voted against the bill.

"Our bill will not take a single calorie out of the mouths of children, the elderly, or those who are disabled," said Congresswomen Vicky Hartzler (MO-4) "All individuals who qualify for food stamps will continue to receive nutritional assistance."

But Baker said most people receiving SNAP benefits are children, seniors and families.

"That would cut about 1.5 billion meals a year over the next 10 years so you are talking about a real impact on people who rely upon this benefit to provide basic needs like food," Baker said.

Missouri Food Banks hand out 95 million pounds of food a year, but Bakers says that is not going to be enough to make up for the meals that will be lost.

"I can tell you right now the Food Bank Network and the Food Pantry Network is not prepared to fill that void. We just can't," Baker said.

"This program was intended to be a food safety net for needy children, seniors and the disabled," Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO-3) said. "However, the President has loosened access to the benefit programs by waiving bi-partisan work requirements that has resulted in a 164 percent increase in enrollment over a very short period of time that cannot be sustained."

Baker agrees that the enrollment has increased, but he says that's because of the recession.

"A lot of people say that people who might be kicked off of SNAP they should just go find a job, well it is easier said than done given the lingering effects of the recession," Baker said. "It is very difficult to go find a job right now, especially one that pays a livable wage."

Dorris Cooper had to stop working in 2005 when a knee injury prevented her from working. She receives 14 dollars a week in food stamps and says that is not enough.

"What is 14 dollars? You can't buy anything with 14 dollars," Cooper said.

Cooper is in debt and says it is hard to get enough help, even with the SNAP assistance.

Missouri, however, has the second-highest payment error rate in the nation at 6.44 percent according to a report released by the USDA in September.

Hartzler's website says she approved "the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act, cutting $39 billion of waste, fraud, and abuse from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over the next 10 years."

"Nobody wants to see the waste, nobody wants to see the fraud." Baker said. "But the fact of the matter is the program as a whole has a 1 percent inefficiency rate nationwide and most federal program would kill for that kind of inefficiency rate."

Lawmakers have until the end of this year to agree on a new farm bill. To see both the House and Senate version of the bill, click here. To make a donation to Missouri Food Banks, visit their web page.

Editor's Note: This story was updated October 22nd. The quote from Blaine Luetkemeyer was originally attributed to Billy Long, which was incorrect.