Far too many Missourians struggle with food insecurity. On average, Missouri households experience food insecurity at a higher rate than the U.S. as a whole. The USDA Economic Research Service found that from 2011 to 2013, 16.9% of Missouri households were food insecure compared to only 14.6% nationally. Ten years prior, 10.4% of Missouri households experienced food insecurity, just below the 11% average nationwide at that time. This statistically significant 6.5 percentage-point increase in Missouri household food insecurity from 2001-2003 to 2011-2013 represents a concerning trend for the state. This translates into roughly 400,000 Missouri households experiencing food insecurity today.
Many federal programs seek to reduce the number of Americans who are food insecure. Collectively referred to as the Food and Nutrition Safety Net (FNSN), these programs are critical in ameliorating the day-to-day food security challenges facing millions across the country. One FNSN program is the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). NSLP provides low-cost or free lunches every day to public school children based on categorical, income, or community eligibility. School children can be categorically eligible for NSLP based on their household participation in other federal means-tested programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Income eligibility is established by demonstrating that gross household income is below 130 percent of the federal poverty line for free meals, or between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty line for reduced meals. And beginning in 2012, schools with at least 40 percent of school children qualifying for free meals based on categorical eligibility can qualify for community eligibility in which meals are provided free to all children. In 2012, NSLP provided low-cost or free lunches to more than 31 million children across the country.