Old census statistics may mean less food for hungry in Missouri

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Missouri's hungry have been getting even less to eat, and some outdated statistics could be to blame.

Although the number of food stamp recipients have increased and the state's work force has decreased, food banks are reporting fewer donations. Now, officials of the Division of Family Services are considering adjustments to a formula that has been using data from 2001 to determine need.

One part of the DFS formula is U.S. Census data on so-called "food-insecure homes" -- households where families aren't sure if there will be enough money for their next meal. The current information was gathered before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and before the economy went sour.

"It's extremely frustrating because you know those numbers have no effect on what we have now," said Bart Brown, executive director of Ozarks Food Harvest.

The DFS formula, which can be altered every six months, also includes unemployment rates, Census data on poverty, the number of families served at food pantries and meals served at kitchens, said Janel Luck, deputy director of DFS.

Alternatives considered

At a January meeting with food bank representatives, state officials suggested using quarterly food stamp recipient figures to help monitor needs by county.

"We would try to look at a fairly broad spectrum of measures so we would be getting a true picture" of need, Luck said.

The adjustment would not be foolproof because not all struggling families will apply for food stamps, but it could provide more up-to-date information than Census data from years ago and boost supplies to food banks like Brown's.

Last month, federal commodities that arrived at Ozarks Food Harvest in Springfield dropped 65 percent, from 263,500 pounds in January 2002 to 92,872 pounds, Brown said.

Part of the reason was that bonus commodities -- overruns or food declined by other food banks -- weren't coming in as they did last year.

But Brown also said he thinks the outdated statistics had a negative effect.

And Brown's food bank isn't alone. Prairie Chapel United Methodist Church north of Urbana previously received two pallets of food a month and now is "lucky if we get one pallet," said Thomas Little, church pantry spokesman.

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