Our core belief around hunger is very, very simple – you cannot have life or liberty or be allowed to pursue happiness if you are unsure of where your next meal comes from. Our communities cannot be strong if there are food-insecure members living in them. Nourishment, the simple act of being able to feed yourself and your family, is essential to Missouri’s individuals, families, and communities.
Although Missouri’s General Assembly is out of session from June to December and not doing any legislating, Empower Missouri has had to stay on our toes the entire time, especially when it comes to hunger. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Trump administration has worked overtime to try to disqualify as many people as possible from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps), one that helps to put food on the table for more than 42 million individuals with low incomes every year. Almost one million of these individuals live in Missouri.
They have targeted cuts at the elderly, children, able-bodied adults without children, and pretty much every other demographic that utilizes the program. The USDA has issued rules that would restrict qualifications for someone who is unemployed or underemployed, rules that would take away school meals from children living in households with low incomes, rules that would change someone’s level of benefit based on a one-size-fits-all calculation involving utility expenses, and many more have all been proposed or finalized in the last year. The administration’s attempt to starve people into productivity is persistent and powerful, and we’ve had to be equally persistent in taking action to defend the most vulnerable members of Missouri communities.
At every turn, Empower Missouri and our national partners have been there to submit comments, sign petitions, and make sure our voices, which are combined in strong opposition to these cuts, are heard in Washington, D.C. We’ve also found other, more creative ways to inform legislators and constituents alike about the importance of food security.
In late summer, Empower Missouri issued the #MOSNAPChallenge, which a dozen or so members of the General Assembly accepted. They were asked to shop for a family of four using only what’s allowed through SNAP – $1.33 per person per meal. Some legislators went above and beyond, choosing to feed their whole families for a week using the guidelines. A bipartisan panel of legislators who either took the challenge or had personal experience with SNAP spoke at our annual conference. The challenge also spurred our federal representatives to action, with both Rep. Clay and Cleaver signing on to HR 1368, which would raise the per-meal allotment to SNAP recipients.
Earlier this fall, we hosted our annual conference, which this year was themed “Building Blocks for Missouri’s Success”, and was focused on hunger. Ellen Teller, the Director of Government Affairs for the Food Research & Action Center in Washington, D.C., served as our keynote speaker, and we featured workshops that dove into many different aspects of hunger. Our conference also featured a first look at the findings of the 2019 Missouri Hunger Atlas from the University of Missouri Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security. Attendees left the conference with a better understanding of hunger at a state and federal level and a better toolkit to take action when it’s needed – and it will be needed.
The Missouri Legislative Session will begin in early January, promising the start of a long and consequential public debate on many issues in the Show-Me State. Empower Missouri is considering the battles we will have to fight against those who are working hand-in-hand with the administration to take away this fundamental building block from Missouri’s communities, both urban and rural. While there are many areas that we cover where we are actively working to help pass new and helpful legislation that will make Missouri a better place for all, we have to almost exclusively play defense when it comes to hunger – working to prevent bad bills from becoming law and hurting Missouri families.
State Senator Sater and State Representative Dirk Deaton have filed identical bills that would put work hour tracking on Missourians who utilize SNAP. Rep. Eggleston has filed a bill that also attacks parents and children on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. These pieces of legislation are the result of a long-held and horribly misinformed belief that the punishment of hunger will somehow stir someone to action and cause them to find a job. It’s illogical and doesn’t stand against even the least bit of scrutiny. There are also many areas in Missouri, especially rural areas, that have scarce employment opportunities and extremely limited or non-existent public transportation options. Without other types of economic development, like investment in jobs and infrastructure, we cannot reasonably expect those who live in these areas to magically find employment that doesn’t exist or is inaccessible for thousands. An empty stomach doesn’t create a job.
If SB611, HB1785, or HB 1708 see any movement, rest assured that Empower Missouri will be letting our friends and followers know so they can act against these disastrous bills. We’ll be asking you to sign petitions, write letters and make calls to your representatives and the speaker’s office, and, if you’re able, to come with us to the capitol to testify against these dangerous and cruel bills. Keep an eye on our website, make sure you’re signed up for our weekly email list, attend our #UDAS webinars, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date on all of our work around hunger