Mid-Missouri expert: We’re losing war on poverty

Poor wages, benefits blamed for Cole County’s 12.3 percent rate

Ashley Varner said there’s currently a war on poverty, and we are not winning it.

“I don’t have all the answers,” said Varner, community organizer for Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA). “I’m only working toward helping.”

CMCA serves eight counties, and the agency’s mission is to “empower individuals and families to achieve self-reliance.”

In Cole County, the agency provides services such as Head Start, energy assistance and family development.

Varner said each county presents its own issues. She works with Cole and Moniteau counties, and said more people in Moniteau County than Cole County seem to be aware of the poverty issue.

“The attitudes and perceptions around poverty are different,” she said.

In 2011, the most recent data available, Cole County had a poverty rate of more than 12.3 percent. In Moniteau County, that number was 14.5 percent. Statewide, it was 15.8 percent.

“In all reality, it’s because of inadequate wages and no benefits,” Varner said. “People are working, but they’re just not making enough money.”

Varner said CMCA case managers deal with a variety of local people with a variety of different issues.

“It’s really their goal to become self-sufficient and to get off welfare,” she said.

Varner’s role with CMCA is to reach out to the community to determine the needs and then to try to find solutions.

For example, she had a conversation with a local pastor who was concerned about a lack of information in the community on finances and budgeting.

“So we set up some budgeting classes,” Varner said. “Really, the meat of my job is trying to think of solutions.”

She said there aren’t solutions to end poverty, but there are things that can be done to reduce it in the long term.

“When you think in terms of long term, it’s making health care available, no cuts to food stamps and increased job skills training,” Varner said.

Gov. Jay Nixon recently affirmed the no cuts to food stamps by stopping a proposal to cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

“That is one great example of how high-level leadership is dealing with poverty in Missouri,” Varner said.

She said it’s going to take the whole community to partner with CMCA and its efforts to reduce poverty in the county.

She advises the community to educate itself.

“Being aware of the facts and figures before you judge someone is important,” Varner said.

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