One in seven Kentuckians has food on their table in part thanks to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The program lifts 164,000 Kentuckians, including 73,000 children, out of poverty. It sends nearly $1 billion a year to grocery stores and our state economy, and injects even more into our local communities during hard times when they most need it. For decades, SNAP has been a program with broad-based, bipartisan support, because all of us value making sure everyone has enough to eat.
But this vital assistance is in jeopardy if Congress agrees to the $17 billion in cuts to SNAP in the proposed Farm Bill.
The proposal would create extremely restrictive work requirements, dangerous lock-out periods for up to three years, and expensive and burdensome administrative red tape that is likely to result in errors and loss of benefits. Vital food assistance will be put at risk for working Kentuckians and their families, children, seniors, Kentuckians with disabilities, veterans, students and more.
We can all agree that helping people get good-paying jobs is an important goal—but harsher SNAP work requirements won’t help us get there. The fact is that many SNAP participants are working – in low-wage jobs with irregular hours that don’t pay enough to get by. Nearly three-quarters of adults on SNAP work at some point during the year while receiving food assistance or at some point during the preceding year. But more than one in four Kentucky workers earned wages in 2016 that even at full-time, year-round employment, were too low to keep a family of four out of poverty. Low pay, unsteady hours and a lack of benefits like sick days leads to food insecurity and periods of underemployment – a combination which the Farm Bill would worsen by denying food assistance to families who need it most.
Other SNAP participants can’t work due to caregiving responsibilities, health conditions or an extreme scarcity of jobs in regions of our state facing economic upheaval. SNAP is a vital support while Kentuckians look for employment. Historical evidence shows that cutting people off from SNAP won’t raise their incomes or improve their career prospects, but it will make it that much harder for them to get by and feed their families.
At $1.36 per person, per meal, SNAP provides modest but important assistance designed to replace a third of a family’s grocery bill. Research shows it not only boosts economies that are facing downturns and helps families make ends meet, but results in lasting improvements in the lives of children.
As lawmakers create a new Farm Bill, they should leave behind this dangerous proposal and return to the regular practice of passing bipartisan legislation. SNAP is a critical piece of the puzzle to ensure that all Kentuckians, including those in low-wage jobs, can make ends meet. Kentucky’s Congressional members need to protect and strengthen SNAP, not cut it.
ACLU of Kentucky, Advocacy Action Network, Appalshop, Children, Inc., Community Farm Alliance, Fahe, Family Resource and Youth Services Coalition of Kentucky, Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky, Jefferson County Teachers Association, Kentucky Association of Community Heath Workers, Kentucky Association of Food Banks, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Kentucky Council of Churches, Kentucky Education Association, Kentucky Equal Justice Center, Kentucky Forward, Kentucky Nurses Association, Kentucky School Boards Association, Kentucky State AFL-CIO, Kentucky Voices for Health, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Mental Health of America of Kentucky, Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, National Association of Social Workers, Kentucky Chapter, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, The Women’s Network , UFCW Local 227
This column ran in the Northern Kentucky Tribune and the Lexington Herald-Leader on May 7, 2018, the State Journal on May 8, 2018 and the Courier-Journal on May 10, 2018.