Op-Ed: Cuts to Snap Would Hurt Kentucky

By Jason Bailey
August 17, 2013

Published in the Frankfort State Journal, August 17, 2013.

House Republican leaders are calling for even deeper cuts to nutritional assistance for low-income adults and kids after the cuts they considered last month didn’t go far enough for some House members. As a poor and rural state still struggling with the aftermath of the Great Recession, those cuts would harm Kentucky’s recovery and make it harder for many families to make ends meet.

The new proposal would immediately kick up to 88,000 Kentuckians off the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps) and would curtail states’ ability to provide more than three months of benefits every three years to childless adults who can’t find a job during bad economic times or in a region of high unemployment. The cuts go beyond those that a House committee approved in May and would come on top of cuts that will automatically shrink SNAP for all recipients on November 1.

SNAP participation has been up the last few years, but it’s not because of out-of-control spending. It’s because job growth is still slow, unemployment is still high and too many people are stuck in low-wage jobs. Even so, those calling for cuts are overstating the level of SNAP participation. SNAP use and spending growth have already slowed substantially, and as the economy continues to recover costs will go down.

Kentucky is especially vulnerable to cuts in SNAP because unemployment remains high. Even though the recession officially ended over four years ago, Kentucky’s employment rate has gained back less than half of the ground that it lost in the downturn.

We’re also vulnerable because we have regions like eastern Kentucky that struggle with chronic poverty. Just as eastern Kentucky’s economy is reeling even further from the loss of 5,700 coal jobs over the last two years, House leaders would deny many families the basic nutrition and regular access to food that SNAP provides. The cuts would, for example, kick many families off SNAP just for owning a modest car—an essential asset to finding and keeping a job in much of Kentucky.

Cutting SNAP runs counter to what should be our main goal: helping the economy grow. Along with unemployment insurance, SNAP is one of the most effective programs for stimulating a faster economic recovery. That’s because families in need who receive SNAP quickly spend the money in local grocery stores, thereby creating jobs. Cutting SNAP would weaken an already-sluggish economy.

Claims like those made by Congressmen Rogers, Whitfield, Guthrie and Barr in a recent Lexington Herald-Leader op-ed about “waste” in the program are just wrong. Fewer than 2 percent of SNAP benefits go to households that do not meet all of the program’s eligibility requirements, a record-low rate of error. Most SNAP recipients who are able to work and can find a job in fact do so. The program is designed to help make work viable—many who receive SNAP are working low-wage jobs that don’t pay enough for their families to get by.

SNAP is an efficient and effective program to reduce hunger, stimulate the economy and help families make ends meet in hard times. In 2011, it kept 4.7 million Americans out of poverty. Kentucky’s congressional delegation should reject cuts to this critical safety net program, and turn their focus to short-term federal investments that can help bring about the full economic recovery needed in Kentucky and the country.

Jason Bailey is director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.