Nearly a dozen Missouri legislators complete food stamp challenge

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JEFFERSON CITY – Nearly a dozen Missouri state lawmakers have wrapped up a new challenge designed to help them better understand some of their constituents.

Jefferson City-based organization, Empower Missouri, invited legislators to participate in its first “Missouri SNAP Challenge.” The challenge required those participating to shop for three days on the same budget used by people who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. 

Empower Missouri designed the challenge as a way to “walk a mile in the shoes of Missourians” on food stamps. One Empower Missouri representative said he hopes the challenge gave lawmakers a frame of reference. 

“We really hope it’s going to be an opportunity for the legislature to understand their constituents who don’t have their basic needs being met,” Empower Missouri Communications Director Conner Kerrigan said. 

According to a federal report released in September, Missouri food insecurity has dropped, but it is still slightly higher than the national average. The report released shows that Missouri food insecurity was 12% between 2016-18, down from 15.2% between 2013-15. 

Kerrigan said he believes food security is not a partisan issue, which would explain why both Republican and Democrat lawmakers accepted the challenge.

“There’s no way for us to politicize the fact that people aren’t eating enough,” he said. 

One of the first state lawmakers to accept the challenge was Representative Marry Elizabeth Coleman, R-Jefferson, St. Louis. Representative Coleman said she too can understand why lawmakers on both sides of the aisle accepted the challenge. 

“I am not surprised that there is a mix of Republicans and Democrats who took the challenge,” she said. “We do have important policy disagreements but we really do all value the same things, which is the people in our communities."

Representative Coleman documented her experience on Twitter, sharing the impact it had on her and her family. She is a wife and a mother of six children. But after she completed the challenge, she said it did not change her perception. 

“It really didn’t change my mind abut how important these programs are, because I already really value them,” Rep. Coleman said. 

She said the challenge reinforced several of her belief, including her belief that people who use food stamps should be treated properly. 

“I think there can be a move to demonize people who are receiving public assistance,” she said. “If you’re a family that’s on the go and you have a fixed budget, your options can be limited. And it’s important that we remember that and treat people with dignity.”

She said it is also important for people to know even though there may be disagreements on both sides of the aisle on how to address issues like food security, lawmakers are always working to solve those issues. 

“I think that our safety net is a really important part of what we do as a state,” she said. “And I’m really proud of the efforts that both our public and private efforts have made to reduce hunger and provide a safety net for families in our communities.”

Empower Missouri will host its annual conference in Columbia on November 9. State lawmakers who participated in the challenge are invited to speak about their experiences, including Rep. Coleman who has already agreed to attend the conference.