ST. LOUIS • Have there been times in the past 12 months when you didn't have enough money to buy food that you and your family needed?
In Missouri, 17 percent of people asked that question between 2008 and 2012 answered yes, resulting in a No. 15 ranking on a list of the worst states in the country for food hardship for households without children.
Mississippi ranked No. 1, followed by Alabama, West Virginia, South Carolina, and Arkansas, according to the Food Research and Action Center report released Wednesday.
"We've really become a SEC state," said Glenn Koenen, chairman of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare Hunger Task Force. "We are tracking more with the southern states than we are with the industrialized Midwestern states."
Koenen, who used to run Circle of Concern, a food pantry in Valley Park, added: "If we were in school, they'd say we aren't meeting expectations because we should be doing better."
The Missouri social welfare group pointed out that people are landing more jobs, but it's often minimum wage and part-time positions that don't offer health insurance. There are about 800,000 people in Missouri without health insurance, causing some to spend money on medical bills instead of food.
Meanwhile, safety nets like food stamps are being targeted. A $35 monthly bonus created during the recession for a family of four will expire in November. Federal lawmakers are considering a $40 billion cut to food stamps -- officially known as SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- over the next decade.
David Stokes, a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute, which favors deep tax cuts for economic growth, said he wasn't surprised by Missouri's poor ranking for food hardship.
"There is no doubt that our economy is not growing," he said. "We are not getting the jobs or economic growth compared to the rest of the country."
He said losing a significant portion of the feed corn crop to ethanol production has increased food prices for consumers.
"We are subsidizing food to energy," he said. "We should focus on food being food."