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Government, Politics & Issues

Nixon drops plan to cut thousands from food-stamp rolls

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 24, 2013: Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced Thursday that his administration is dropping a plan to cut the state’s food-stamp rolls by stopping a federal waiver that had allowed Missouri to expand eligibility for the last four years.

The governor, a Democrat, said in a statement that he “has directed the Missouri Department of Social Services to withdraw a proposed rule to modify Missouri’s existing waiver under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).”

The proposed change had been strongly opposed by advocacy and progressive groups and Democratic legislators concerned about the tens of thousands of poor people who would have lost their food stamps under the administration’s initial proposal.

The state’s Department of Social Services had declined to provide specifics on the number of people affected or why the change in eligibility was being proposed – beyond a statement earlier this month that the extra food stamp aid was no longer needed because “the recession is over and the economy is growing.’’  That assessment had been disputed by critics.

The Missouri Association for Social Welfare said that more than 25,000 people in the St. Louis area would have lost food stamps and that the change would have made Missouri “one of only six states to reject available federal benefits, which currently bring millions of dollars to Missouri grocers and their surrounding communities, while also alleviating hunger.”

Until Thursday, the governor’s office also had not responded to repeated requests from the Beacon for an explanation or for a response to critics.

Nixon implied in Thursday’s statement that his apparent change of heart may have been linked to the end of the federal-government shutdown, which lasted 16 days.

“Ensuring state-administered food assistance programs operate as effectively and efficiently as possible is an important priority of my administration,” Nixon said. “With greater certainty about what the federal funding level for the food stamp program will be after last week’s budget agreement, we have made a determination that the appropriate course of action is to maintain the policy that is currently in place.”

Ironically, some Republican legislators had declared support for the food-stamp reduction, raising the possibility that the issue – and Nixon’s change of heart – could become an issue when the General Assembly begins a new session in January.

Nixon received praise, however, from state House Assistant Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City.

"Although the state’s overall economy is on the upswing, thousands of individual Missourians are still struggling with the effects of the recession," Beatty said in a statement. "The proposal to prematurely tighten food stamp eligibility was the wrong move at the wrong time, and the governor did the right thing today by reversing course.”

Any change in the state's food-stamp eligibility would need approval of the legislative Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. If approved, it would have gone into effect next spring.

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