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Missouri Groups Renew War on Poverty

In the 1960's the poverty rate began to decline. By 1973 it dropped to 11% -  today it's 15%  Chart credit: John Light
In the 1960's the poverty rate began to decline. By 1973 it dropped to 11% - today it's 15% Chart credit: John Light
April 8, 2013

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Nearly fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty, yet today the Census Bureau finds 15 percent of Americans are poor. This week, nearly fifty community groups gather in Jefferson City to renew the battle against poverty.

Angela Roffle received food stamps twenty years ago to help her raise her children while she finished college. With a master's degree in social work, she now teaches at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. She says many of her students today work but can't dig themselves out of poverty.

"At least once a week, a student has come to me and says, 'I don't know where I'm going to sleep tonight.' 'They cut me off of food stamps because I worked two, three hours over.'"

Roffle is concerned about threatened cuts to the food stamp budget when the farm bill comes up again in Congress. According to the Food Research and Action Center, last year more than 18 percent of Missourians struggled to afford food.

One of the major goals of the summit is to try to find out why there seems to be no winning the war on poverty after almost half a century.

Roffle said many of her students who can't make ends meet just keep on trying.

"They're phenomenal, because a number of them are even homeless," she stated. "But they are coming to class. They are finding ways to study. They don't have computers at home so they are there at the hours that they have to at the computer labs."

The Missouri Association for Social Welfare (MASW) says food stamp usage is particularly high in some areas of Missouri. In five counties - including rural areas such as Pemiscot and Washington but more urban St. Louis County as well - 30 percent or more of the population receives food stamps.

According to the organization's director, Jeanette Mott Oxford, there are a lot of factors that keep people poor, including the high cost of health care, low-paying jobs, and holes in the safety net.

"You know, you make a dime too much and you fall off the cliff," she charged. "But the other end of the cliff is like $10,000 out ahead of you, where you could really make enough to pay for all those things for yourself - and that's quite a disincentive to try to move forward."

The Poverty Summit is sponsored by Missourians to End Poverty, a coalition of nearly 50 groups including MASW, Catholic Charities, Missouri National Education Association and Missouri Food Bank Association.

More information is at is.gd/dl1dsf.pdf and at is.gd/ecoh8p.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - MO