One Step Closer to Ensuring Adequate Nutrition for All Missourians

Empower Missouri’s Food Security Coalition (FSC) is dedicated to making sure that all Missourians have access to healthy meals. The charitable food sector, including institutions like food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens play a critical role in keeping people fed, but they can only provide about ten percent of the total food benefits needed for the over 924,000 Missourians facing hunger. The rest comes from social safety net programs like SNAP (The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which is why our FSC focuses so strongly on protecting these programs – and ensuring that they are accessible to everyone who is eligible.

As recently as 2023, understaffing at the Missouri Department of Social Services call centers and lack of disability accommodations too often resulted in applicants being unable to schedule interviews, ultimately leading to the denial of SNAP benefits for numerous individuals and families that are otherwise eligible. It is essential that eligible families are able to access the benefits they need to meet their nutritional requirements. And so, when legislative advocacy with the Missouri State Legislature and administrative advocacy with the Department of Social Services did not work to address these issues, judicial advocacy was the next step. In February 2022, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) and Stinson LLP, filed a lawsuit on behalf of Empower Missouri and two low-income Missourians. 

In a victory for SNAP advocates and SNAP recipients in Missouri, the lawsuit, which detailed how the State’s practices violated the laws governing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), was decided in our favor last week by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. The decision orders the Missouri Department of Social Services to come into legal compliance and outlines steps the agency must take under the Court’s supervision. The agency must:  

  • Engage in a process alongside the Plaintiffs to identify specific changes DSS will make to comply with the law;  
  • File monthly reports with the Court containing detailed data on SNAP applications, wait times, and disability accommodations, and file that report with several members of Missouri state government outlined in the order; 
  • Submit a proposed plan of action and timeline of implementation “to address shortcomings in the administration of SNAP as identified” within 90 days, including a reduction in call wait times and denials based on failure to receive an interview and compliance with the ADA. 

Nearly one in nine Missourians, and one in eight Missouri children, face food insecurity, and SNAP is one of the most far reaching anti-poverty programs in our country. For too long many eligible Missourians have been unable to access this vital support, and we are grateful for this ruling and the relief that increased accessibility will provide to thousands of Missouri families.

While Empower Missouri celebrates this step, we know that there is more work to be done to address hunger in Missouri. We need to ensure all eligible families are accessing not only SNAP, but other nutrition programs such as WIC, with an application process that is simple and straightforward. We need to expand access to the federal school meals program, so that our children can be well-nourished and ready to learn. And we need to address food deserts so that families across the state have access to grocery stores and farmers markets that have fresh and healthy food available. If you are interested in working with the Food Security Coalition on these and other proposals to fight hunger in Missouri, you can learn more about our work and sign up for email updates here. We hope you will join us!

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