Time is ripe for an investment in the future of those in poverty
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Over 4O million Americans live in poverty and more than 42 million Americans experience food insecurity, which means 1 in 8 people go hungry sometime during the year.  Hunger is a still a serious problem across the U.S., and it does not discriminate by age, race or gender. At the same time, our nation has 6.3 million jobs unfilled due to lack of individuals with the skills necessary to do the job. With the economy jump-started, it is harder and harder for businesses to grow and create new jobs without workers able to join the company.  Proposed changes in the upcoming Farm Bill may be able to address both challenges.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides food and resources to help reduce hunger and food insecurity.  The SNAP program has three components—food assistance (SNAP), nutrition education (SNAP-Ed), and employment and training resources (SNAP E&T). SNAP E&T has only been in existence for a decade, and the 2018 Farm Bill provides a great opportunity to refocus our efforts through this program to equip those in need with the tools necessary to achieve self-sustainability.

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The focus of SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) is pairingwork-capable adults who desire training with the education they need to secure employment allowing them to reduce or eliminate their reliance on assistance and improve the lives of family for years to come. This federal program offers formula funding to each state to provide a package of employment and training services to SNAP participants. 

In Missouri, this vital program is a partnership called SkillUP where the Missouri Department of Social Services contracts with the University of Missouri Extension (MU), Workforce Development Job Centers, and the Missouri Community College Association (MCCA) to meet the diverse needs of the individuals on SNAP E&T.  In 2017 alone, 4,582 individuals received assistance through these networks in a range of capacities from assisted job searches to community college courses to comprehensive case management and certificate-based training.

MU Extension provides the most extensive interactions with each applicant by providing a coach, training, and wrap-around services to support the individual in building the skills necessary to fill open positions in Missouri, including nursing, over-the-road trucking, and warehouse logistics and management. MU’s niche component is coaching, helping those with the most barriers (e.g. homeless, those with a lack of transportation, those lacking a high school diploma, etc.) to gain necessary and useful skills to fill jobs in their community.  

In partnership with MCCA and private training institutions, MU Extension has focused their efforts on short-term certificate programs or vocational programs to ensure success of those who may not have been successful in the past or who face the greatest challenges to education and employment. This intensive coaching led to a 96.6 percent graduation rate for those SkillUP participants completing training during FY17. Those individuals who secured employment reported making annualized salaries between $20,800 and $93,600.

One single father of five went from barely getting by as a school custodian to a stable job in transportation making $72,000 per year. A single mother of two children with disabilities entered the program voluntarily and graduated as valedictorian of her nursing program with a full-time job that supports her family.

Dr. Jo Britt-Rankin, Associate Dean—Extension at the University of Missouri, who oversees the SkillUP program for MU Extension stated that “Staffing is key to this program and the lack of funding to expand and grow is a major limiting factor in engagement. Face-to-face interaction with participants is the key to success as well as on-going communication.  When a participant feels that staff can be trusted and relied upon, success is more likely.”

The 2018 Farm Bill provides a unique opportunity to expand funding for these life changing programs to ensure all SNAP recipients have access to education and training resources so they can secure employment. A major increase in SNAP E&T funding will provide states with vital resources to help their residents break the cycle of poverty.  Smart, common-sense reforms can produce great results like we’ve seen with the modest investments in SNAP E&T currently being implemented across Missouri. By supporting an enhanced E&T program we are augmenting someone’s future by supporting them in achieving their goals.  Jobs are available.  The need is great.  The time for action is now.  Let’s help families make their dreams of self-sufficiency a reality.

Hartzler represents Missouri’s 4th District.