Ozarks Food Harvest estimates that an additional 320,000 people could be food insecure in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. That’s a total of 1.1 million people struggling to put food on the table in Missouri this year alone.
That’s why the food bank is disappointed that the recently released HEALS Act falls short of what’s needed to help hungry families in southwest Missouri. Specifically, the bill doesn’t include a necessary 15% increase in the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) benefit. Not boosting SNAP benefits is a missed opportunity to support families struggling with hunger — many for the first time — during this pandemic and the unprecedented economic downturn.
SNAP is vital to the work of Ozarks Food Harvest and its network of 270 food pantries and feeding sites spread across 28 counties. Last fiscal year, the food bank served a record-breaking 22 million meals, and 1.2 million of those meals were provided by our SNAP outreach. That’s more than 1,000 families that were able to focus on finding employment, paying for medication or paying for housing rather than worrying about where their next meal was coming from.
SNAP is also an efficient and cost-effective way for families to put food on the table while stimulating the local economy. For example, the 1,000 families we assisted generated an estimated $5.2 million in the local economy. That economic stimulus helps the farmers who harvest food, the truck drivers who deliver food and the grocery stores that distribute food.
In addition to a lack of support for SNAP, this bill doesn’t include the necessary funding for food and food distribution services that will allow food banks across the nation to continue to meet the demand that is taking place in their communities. Ozarks Food Harvest has distributed an additional 2.4 million pounds during the pandemic, without regard to cost, to ensure folks don’t have to make the choice between food and other basic necessities. Without critical investments in nutrition programs, the food bank will have to continue its rapid distribution to help those who are struggling in southwest Missouri.
Ozarks Food Harvest and other organizations across the Ozarks cannot meet the need on their own. Charity, business and the government must work together to ensure that families in this country are not forced to choose between putting food on the table or a roof over their heads. We stand ready to work with Senator Blunt and Senator Hawley to ensure a final stimulus bill includes a boost to SNAP benefits and funding to other nutrition programs that will help millions of people facing hunger.