Know someone who’s hungry and not because he or she skipped a mean or wants to cut down on calories? If you don’t think you do, you might be wrong. The UM Interdisciplinary Center for Food Study recently released the 2016 Missouri Hunger Atlas which reports that:
[…] nearly 1 million Missourians faced food insecurity or the worry about not having enough food. This means nearly one in six individuals lacked adequate access to food, with the most vulnerable populations including children and the elderly.
“Missouri households are the hungriest they have been in decades,” said Sandy Rikoon, director of the MU Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security and co-author of the Hunger Atlas. “The increase in the percentage of Missouri citizens who reveal anxiety about not having enough food at some point during the year and those who experience skipped meals and involuntary diet reductions is concerning, and among the highest increases nationwide.”
Keep that in mind when you hear what I’m going to tell you next. State Sen. Ed Emery (R-31) has got several bones to pick when it comes to food aid, especially food stamps (SNAP). On his Facebook page he compares food stamp recipients to wild animals in order to make a case for terminating the program:
Titled as a lesson in irony and attributed to a friend, the post states that 47 million people received food stamp benefits in 2013.
It then states that the National Park Service has a policy against feeding animals.
“Their [sic] stated reason for the policy is because ‘the animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves.’”
Not much you can say about that, even after you pick your jaw up off the ground. It does make it very clear how corporate flunkies like state ALEC* co-chair Emery regard tax-based assistance for anybody except the very rich guys like those who sponsor ALEC .
It’s true that officials at national and state parks encourage people not to feed animals. They do so because the natural food which the animals forage or hunt is healthier for them – food that they may reject after becoming habituated to human food, just as your toddler might eschew his veggies if unlimited candy were an option. But it’s important to remember that original food source hasn’t gone away.
Emery’s effort to draw an analogy based on animal life fails because the conditions that the human individuals in the SNAP program experience are not the same. For most humans, getting food requires, first off, a source of income. Unfortunately, Missouri is one of the states where the economic recovery has lagged behind the rest of the nation. According to analysis from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline publication, Missouri saw employment growth of only 3.95% since 2010 when the state’s jobs figures were at the lowest point. Hard to get a job that doesn’t exist.
Second, the jobs that do exist have to pay workers enough to handle their necessities, including food. More than half of all food aid recipients are employed, but they don’t make enough money to adequately feed themselves and their families without aid.
Actually, despite Emery’s seeming panic about the corrupting influence of SNAP, Missouri saw a 5-10% decrease in SNAP recipients between 2013 and 2015. Why then, you must be asking, if fewer people need food aid, is food insecurity increasing in the state?
Could it be that the decrease in the numbers of SNAP recipients has nothing to do with need, but rather reflects the efforts of GOPers like Emery to restrict access to food assistance? There’s lots of evidence to support this case. The state has made and continues to make it difficult for individuals to apply for aid, and last year the legislature enacted rules that will deny food assistance to between 30,000 – 58,000 Missourians. Legislators like ALEC fanboy Emery also push that organization’s pre-digested, anti-union, anti-worker policies that help to hold down wages in the state.
In nature, when animal food sources are diminished, there is widespread starvation. Perhaps what Sen. Emery is trying to tell us when, in order to support the policies he promotes, he compares hungry people to wild animals, is that he’s just fine with letting them starve to death, just like animals in the wild starve when they can’t find food.
*American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC