Mississippi Hunger and Poverty Policy Questions

Please read these questions and let us know what your organization and others in the Magnolia State are doing to move legislation and policy in a direction that helps those in need.

Virtually all states have budget deficits and extensive financial problems this year and beyond.  The states are also the custodians and administrators of multi billions of dollars of federal assistance programs. State policies related to hunger and poverty contain a great deal of state money that is in short supply right now but much more federal money that can grow as the use of the programs grows.

These state policy questions are meant to begin a conversation about how states can deliver more services to their citizens who are facing extreme long term unemployment, hunger, home foreclosures and loss of health insurance and pensions. 

Please read them and let us know what your organization and others in your state are doing to move legislation and policy in a direction that helps those in need, especially the poorest of the poor, the millions of new poor, seniors, returning vets, children and the homeless.

Our intention is to create a place on our website that will highlight policy actions that state based organizations are taking and how they are proceeding.  We also hope to host a WhyHunger State Policy Award for the best state policies in the U.S.A.

1) Mississippi has the lowest per capita income in the U.S.  Why is there no state minimum wage?  Is there any movement to have a state minimum wage? If so, which organizations are involved?
2) Poverty rates are the highest in the nation. 21.9% of the population in Mississippi lives in poverty, 31.9% of children live in poverty, and 16% of seniors live in poverty. What is being done to address these high levels of poverty? What programs are being put into place? Who is involved?
3) Mississippi has high unemployment, one of the lowest reception rates of unemployment insurance and the lowest average weekly benefit in the country ($197.23- versus the national average of $306.90).  Why are both rates so low?  Is there any move to increase them?  Which organizations are involved?
4) Mississippi has the 2nd highest rate of jobs paying below the federal poverty line (36.9).  How have federal job development dollars and Katrina funds been spent in the state?  Have they produced living wage jobs?  Is there any investigation into job creation policies?  Which organizations are involved?
5) Mississippi does not have a Shared Work Program.  Why not?  Is there any effort to bring one to the state?
6) More than 20% of the population under 65 is uninsured.  How many federal Community Health Centers are there in Mississippi and where are they located?  Is there any action to bring additional centers into the state and strengthen those already there?
7) The infant mortality rate is the highest in the country, as is the percentage of the population that is obese.  What statewide efforts are working to reduce both?  How successful have they been?  Which organizations are involved?
8) Mississippi has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the country yet the percentage of people receiving SNAP is only 60%.  What efforts are happening statewide to increase SNAP participation?  Mississippi is the poorest and hungriest state yet imposes the highest tax on food (7%). Is there any effort to exempt food purchases from being taxed?
9) Less than half of the children who receive a free lunch are enrolled in the school breakfast program.  What movement is there to introduce in classroom breakfasts or grab and go?  Which organizations are involved?
10) Despite the large number of hungry children the participation rate for the Summer Nutrition Program is the lowest in the country.  What are the major obstacles?  What solutions have actually been tried, and by whom? 
11) The WIC Farmers Market program benefit is only $14. The average is $22.  Is there a move to increase the amount for Mississippi?
12) The number of farmers markets participating in the Senior Farmers Markets program is very small. The number of farms participating in community supported agriculture is the lowest in the nation, at only 4 farms. What efforts are there to encourage more participation?  What are the obstacles?
13) Only 7 percent of families living below the federal poverty level receive TANF, among the lowest in the country.  Why?  Is any organization or state legislator working to improve this number?
14) The Mississippi TANF program has the lowest maximum monthly benefit for a family of 3 ($170) in the country. Are there any efforts in motion to increase the limit?
15) There is no state EITC program.  Is there any movement in the legislature or among organizations to have one?
16) Mississippi is one of the few states that does not have a pre-k program.  The president is investing billions in pre-k.  Is there any movement in the state for a pre-k program?  If so, who is involved?
17) The average monthly SNAP benefit per person increased from $92.59 in 2008 to $113.83 in 2009. Despite the large increase this figure is still over $10.00 below the national average, is there any movement to increase SNAP benefits? What organizations are involved?
18) The state of Mississippi received only $75,000 out of the over $21 million available in the WIC farmers’ market Nutrition Program Grant program. This amounts to less than 0.04% of the total award available, a rather small amount when you consider the high amount of food insecurity, obesity and diabetes in your state compared to others. Do you know of any efforts to request a larger share in the future?
19) People earning the lowest income in Mississippi are paying 10.8% of their income in taxes, while the highest 1% of income earners are only paying 5.50% of their income in taxes. Is anything being done to reduce taxes on low income earners? Is there any movement to raise taxes on the highest income earners in the state?
20) What other statewide policies or programs are you aware of that are helping to fight hunger and poverty, or are there any that are responsible for increasing it?

Please let us know what your organization and others in your state are doing to move legislation and policy in a direction to address these questions by contacting Executive Director and Co-Founder Bill Ayres at [email protected]

Feel free to inform us of any mistakes we may have made in any of these questions. Also we would appreciate any comments on policies or statistics that might have been overlooked.