WHAT OTHERS SAY: Nixon's cut to food aid hurts most vulnerable population

Thursday, October 10, 2013 | 2:21 p.m. CDT

In 2011, Gov. Jay Nixon thought hunger was a problem in Missouri.

It was. It still is.

Back then, during a visit to the St. Louis Area Foodbank, the governor said, “Far too many folks are out of work and too many families are struggling to put food on the table. Hunger, unemployment and poverty aren’t constrained by geography. These hard times have fallen on folks all over the Show-Me State, from urban cities to rural towns, and everywhere in between. As Missourians, we have always looked for ways to help our friends and neighbors in need.”

Earlier this year, acknowledging that hunger was still a problem, Mr. Nixon repeated those sentiments. In March, he signed a bill reinstating tax credits to food banks that would help them raise money to deal with a growing need. Here’s what he said then:

“Continuing to move our state forward means making sure we don’t leave our most vulnerable citizens behind.”

At some point between then and now, Mr. Nixon apparently came to believe that Missouri’s hunger problems have been solved. The Kansas City Star reported Tuesday that Mr. Nixon’s Department of Social Services now plans to turn away federal food stamp aid intended to help states hurt most by the recession.

Since 2009, Missouri has qualified for, and received, a waiver to the work requirements for certain able-bodied adults without children under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP. That waiver has helped approximately 58,000 long-term unemployed adults get the food they need to help them survive during difficult times.

Mr. Nixon apparently now believes those hard times are over. His administration has filed a proposed rule with a legislative panel that would do away with the federal waiver.

The state no longer needs the waiver it still qualifies for, according to a statement from the Department of Social Services, because “the recession is over and the economy is growing.”

Here’s a newsflash for the governor: The recovery hasn’t reached the state’s most vulnerable. People in Missouri are still hungry. Your decision is cold-hearted, dead wrong, and can only be seen as some convoluted political attempt to align yourself with the same tea party Republicans in Congress who want to cut billions of dollars in food aid to the poor.

This is one awful decision.

Just last month, the federal Department of Agriculture released its annual report on hunger, defined as “food insecurity.” Missouri ranked 7th-worst in the nation in the percentage of its residents who were food insecure at some point last year. Among those folks with more severe hunger? Missouri ranked 2nd-worst in the nation. Worse yet, when the statistics are compared over the last decade, Missouri has more people falling into hunger than any state in the nation.

We understand why the governor wouldn’t want to boast about that, but why should he make it worse? The numbers are indisputable: Even as some elements of Missouri’s economy improve, things are not getting better for the state’s poorest residents and its hungriest people.

The St. Louis Area Foodbank, for instance, is on pace to hand out 8 million more pounds of food this year than it did last year. That’s just another sign that hunger in Missouri is getting worse.

The SNAP program is entirely paid for by the federal government. Turning that money down, when it costs the state nothing and helps feed the hungry, not only makes no sense, it’s simply cruel.

In fact, it undercuts the very argument Mr. Nixon, a Democrat, has rightly been making in urging the Republican-controlled Legislature to expand Medicaid for the working poor. The federal government is paying the freight for the economic benefits flowing directly to Missouri. To say nothing of the moral benefits. See Matthew 25:35.

What good does it do to bring health care to poor Missourians if they have no food on the table?

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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