There are hundreds of thousands of Missouri families that don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
Despite progress, the state is still higher than the national average for food insecurity.
A recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows Missouri has improved hunger levels throughout the state. Compared to one year ago, levels are down almost one full percentage point. However, 11.7% is the national average of food insecurity, and Missouri sits at 12%.
Jeanette Mott Oxford, executive director of Empower Missouri, wants to see nutritional programs strengthened.
“It (the state average) could go down if we had the right combination of public policy response and local charity response, because it really takes both in order to solve a problem as big as hunger,” she said. “There are even more people that go to our food banks than are on SNAP.”
According to the Washington, D.C.-based Food Research and Action Center, close to 740,000 Missourians used the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program on a monthly basis in 2018. Mott Oxford said more than 1 million people in Missouri utilize a food bank or food pantry at some point throughout the year.
Ellen Teller, director of governmental affairs for the food research center, said that although the national economy is rebounding from the recession in 2008, food insecurity levels still have not dropped to pre-recession numbers.
“We know that families with children experience food insecurity,” Teller said. “Elderly people, people with disabilities, veterans. ... There’s no demographic group that’s immune to this.”
One in six children struggles with hunger in Missouri according to Feeding America, a nonprofit hunger-relief organization. Its report also shows that 45% of the households receiving SNAP benefits have children.
Mott Oxford said that food insecurity often mirrors other trends about who lives in poverty in Missouri. She said people of color are disproportionately using these benefits and poor.
“That’s not for lack of effort,” she said. “There’s lots of data that shows that, unfortunately, structural inequality is still alive and well in our country. The poverty rate for African Americans for example, is three times higher in Missouri than it is for European Americans.”
Mott Oxford also pointed out that 1 in 6 rural residents are on SNAP in Missouri and 1 in 8 urban residents. She said it’s a common assumption that more people in metropolitan areas use these benefits.
“People have trouble with transportation (in rural areas),” she said. “What jobs may be available may be a long way away, and if you don’t have transportation, there’s no infrastructure in the rural part of the state to get you to where those jobs are.”
Empower Missouri will be holding its annual Building Blocks for Missouri’s Success Conference on Nov. 9 in Columbia. The conference will focus specifically on food security in Missouri, and Teller will serve as a keynote speaker.
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