Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the connection between unemployment, poverty and food insecurity has been clear. One of the best indicators of food insecurity is poverty. At the end of 2019, Missouri’s food insecurity rate was 12% while its poverty level was 13.2%, both above the national average. At that point, according to the 2020 Missouri Poverty Report, our unemployment rate was only 3.2%.
But since the pandemic hit, as of April 2020, according to the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, our state’s unemployment rate has increased to 9.8%. Data models project this will grow, extending into 2021. Our food security advocacy network around the state reports that a high volume of need is being presented at their agencies. This confirms what a serious challenge Missouri is now facing related to food security.
We are grateful for the swift action that Congress has already taken to help struggling families with increased nutrition support. For example, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was a step in the right direction, but unfortunately this Act still left out 40% of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients. Congress must do more. Empower Missouri has signed on to a national letter asking Congress to increase SNAP benefits across the board by 15%, plus take other steps to enhance nutrition assistance in our communities.
We know this is a proven and workable way to help those most in need, reduce strain on the food banks/pantries, and also boost the economy. In 2009, in response to the Great Recession, both unemployment and food insecurity spiked and Congress enacted this exact time-limited solution with impressive results that could have accomplished even more if left in place longer.
The pandemic poses serious threats to all – but especially to those who are food insecure. Temporary school closures and job layoffs have caused more families to be burdened with financial strife and food struggles. The data coming in also could not be clearer regarding the racial equity issues that are at stake as well. African Americans are disproportionately ill and dying from COVID-19, losing jobs or hours, and/or uninsured. Policy solutions must address the deep needs created by previous decades of structural inequality.
Are you part of a not-for-profit organization or community of faith that could sign on to the organizational letter? Can you forward this request to a helping agency in your community? Our federal delegation members need to increase SNAP benefits by 15% and shore up nutrition aid in the next legislative package. The best way to ensure that they will is for them to hear from constituents like you about needs in local communities.
It would also be very helpful if you, as an individual Missouri resident, would go to the Empower Missouri website to adapt our COVID-19 response template into an email that will then go to Senator Blunt, Senator Hawley and your U.S. Representative. This communication will be more effective if you edit the subject line and content to reflect your concerns. Our friends at the Missouri Budget Project have set us up with a great fact sheet that is helpful for providing statistics you may use.
Again to make them easy to find:
With this action, you are showing a strong commitment to help the many women, children and families with low incomes who are struggling under the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you for continuing to fight for the well-being of all members of the community.
Senior Policy and Organizing Coordinator
Policy and Organizing Intern