By Dustin Pugel
This holiday season, as Kentuckians celebrate with friends and family around the table, we must also remember the impact policy choices are having on one of the best tools we have to ensure we all get enough to eat.
The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, plays a critical role in improving the health and well-being of 580,000 Kentuckians, including workers, children, seniors and even 23,000 veterans.
According to Feeding America, SNAP provides 12 meals for every meal the network’s food banks provide. And though relatively modest — SNAP supplements Kentuckians’ food budget with an average of $1.36 per person, per meal — it goes a long way to help prevent hunger and its consequences.
In Kentucky alone, SNAP keeps 164,000 of us out of poverty, including 73,000 children. It also helps our economy. In 2017, the federal government injected $933 million into local Kentucky economies through SNAP. And by reducing food insecurity, SNAP keeps us healthier, too. Research shows that people who are food insecure are likelier to have a chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes.
Despite all of these benefits, the state has erected new barriers to SNAP participation in recent months. As a result, between May and September of this year, over 10,000 adults lost food assistance after three months of not being able to prove they worked enough hours.
Many of them live in “labor surplus areas,” communities with more people who need work than there are jobs. Some face discriminatory barriers to employment, or work in low-wage industries where consistent hours are hard to come by. A significant number of those losing coverage were likely unclear about the new paperwork requirements they had to meet.
As time goes by, the number of people who cannot surmount the state’s new barriers is likely to rise, leading to more and more people losing nutrition assistance. Until this year, the state routinely waived time limits for communities facing economic challenges. It should return to the practice of doing so.
At the same time the state is kicking people off SNAP, Congress is currently working to finalize the farm bill — landmark legislation passed every five years that funds SNAP and other priorities. With many Americans and Kentuckians left behind in the slow recovery from the Great Recession, it’s crucial that lawmakers pass a farm bill that protects and strengthens SNAP — along the lines of what the Senate passed earlier this year — and avoid the harmful cuts to SNAP included in the House version.
Rep. James Comer and Sen. Mitch McConnell serve on the conference committee that will decide the fate of SNAP soon. They should recognize the vital role SNAP plays in the commonwealth, among their constituents and in our economy.
Many Kentuckians will donate food, serve in soup kitchens and take meals to neighbors in the coming weeks and many will give even when it feels difficult financially to do so. This generosity strengthens our communities, but we can’t fight hunger through charity alone. We also need our lawmakers, both state and federal, to protect and strengthen SNAP. As we give thanks this season, let’s ensure all families can put food on the table.
Dustin Pugel is a policy analyst with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.