Of all the ways Missouri has grabbed national headlines in recent months, this might be the worst:
Missouri is No. 1 in the nation in hunger.
This distinction can be found in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual report on food insecurity, released on Wednesday.
Never worry about where your next meal is coming from? You’re food secure, like 85 percent of the people in the nation.
Unfortunately, nearly 1 in 6 Missourians, or 16.7 percent of them, are food insecure.
That means that at least once in the past year, in most cases several times, they skipped meals because they didn’t have enough food. Money ran out. Or they got by on less nutrition than they needed just to spread out the food they could afford.
Last year, Missouri ranked 7th worst in the nation in food insecurity. For those more extreme hunger cases, classified as “very low food security,” Missouri had the second highest rate in the country. Arkansas was first. Those with “very low food security” sometimes go an entire day without eating.
That’s bad enough.
But when compared to the numbers from a decade ago, Missouri’s negative change, that is the number of people falling into hunger, is worse than any other state in the nation.
It’s important to put this marker of the state’s real poverty in a political context.
This summer, the U.S. House for the first time since 1973 passed a Farm Bill that didn’t include funding for the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program, or food stamps, the federal program that makes sure that many of the more than 17 million Americans who were food insecure at least once in 2012 can eat.
Luckily, the bill won’t become law. But even if House Republicans eventually pass the SNAP program in a separate bill, they want to cut about $20 billion out of it.
So they can preserve subsidies for farmers, many of whom don’t need the money.
Take the poster-child of the war on food for poor kids, Rep. Stephen Fincher, the Tennessee Republican who quotes the Book of Thessalonians — “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat” — to justify his vote against food stamps.
Never mind that he’s taking the passage out of context, or that many hungry Americans are, indeed, working, Mr. Fincher’s great hypocrisy is that he’s one of Tennessee’s largest recipients of the very subsidies to wealthy farmers that the Farm Bill protected.
Missouri’s 4th District Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, is another of the hypocrites who voted to keep farm subsidies, like her family has received, while cutting food stamps for the poor.
Every Missouri Republican member of Congress voted for the Farm Bill without food stamps. Pitiful.
We’re not sure it would make a difference, but they each need to read the USDA’s food security report.
Or they need to talk to the folks at the St. Louis Area Foodbank, which this year is on pace to distribute 33 million pounds of food to the 26 counties it serves in Missouri and Illinois. That’s 8 million more pounds of food than the Food Bank delivered last year. That is a massive jump. That’s a lot of hungry mouths to feed. Much of that food goes to charitable food pantries that serve people who aren’t on food stamps but still can’t make ends meet.
“Anytime you talk about making cuts to SNAP, it only increases the burden on local pantries,” said Food Bank spokesman Ryan Farmer.
If they think it’s just an urban problem, they should head out to West County, where Circle of Concern food pantry officials were delighted to have their emptying shelves restocked recently by a full truck of food donations from Wildwood Christian Church. Yes, West Countians are food insecure, too. Lots of them.
Sadly, we shouldn’t be surprised by the number of hungry Missourians. The food insecurity report mirrors the Kids Count report, that shows more than a quarter-of-a-million Missouri children living in poverty. The same report shows a similar trend, with the number of children and families in poverty in the Show-Me State consistently rising over the past decade, which coincides with the time that Republicans took over the legislature and put a target on the back of poor kids, poor families, and the sort of government spending that keeps them afloat.
Is it any wonder that in the school districts in Missouri with the lowest test scores — rural or urban — the common denominator is a higher percentage of children who qualify for free-and-or-reduced lunch?
Hungry kids can’t learn. Missouri has a lot of hungry kids.
Current Republican theology holds that if you cut taxes, jobs will follow, that government programs are rife with waste, fraud and abuse, that charity will provide. That hasn’t always been the case with the GOP, a party which not long ago in its history recognized the important role a safety net plays in society.
Today, our corporations are sitting on mountains of cash, and our children are getting poorer and poorer, bringing down performance levels in schools lawmakers don’t want to fund. The charities can’t keep up.
This is our reality.
Missouri’s low-tax, no-services philosophy has taken us right to the top.
We’re number one in growing the percentage of our population that is hungrier today than a decade ago.
What a shameful distinction.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.