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Commentary: Protecting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in Farm Bill is essential

By Dustin Pugel

One in seven Kentuckians has food on their table in part thanks to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).


SNAP lifts 164,000 Kentuckians, including 73,000 children, out of poverty. It sends nearly $1 billion a year to grocery stores and our state’s economy, and injects even more into our local communities during hard times when they most need it. For decades, SNAP has had broad-based, bipartisan support, because all of us value making sure everyone has enough to eat.

As Kentucky’s two elected officials on the Farm Bill Conference Committee, Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative Jamie Comer, negotiate for the future of SNAP, we urge them to consider its value to the commonwealth. Specifically, we urge them to adopt the Senate version of the SNAP provisions that protect and enhance this vital food assistance.

In contrast, the version of the Farm Bill passed by the House would have cut SNAP by $19 billion and left many Kentucky families without help paying for groceries. These cuts took the form of extremely restrictive work requirements, dangerous lock-out periods for up to three years, and expensive and burdensome administrative red tape that would likely result in errors and loss of benefits.

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 working Kentuckians 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.

SNAP supports work. Not only does it help Kentuckians whose jobs pay too little to make ends meet or while they look for employment, but research has also shown that when people have enough food, they’re healthier and therefore more productive members of their communities.

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. This assistance boosts economies that are facing downturns, helps families make ends meet, and results in lasting improvements in the lives of children.

As lawmakers put the finishing touches on a new Farm Bill, they should leave behind dangerous proposals from the House and move ahead with the bipartisan Senate version of the bill. 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 Farm Bill conferees need to protect and strengthen SNAP, not cut it.

The following organizations are signatories on the letter in opposition to the proposed cuts to SNAP in the Farm Bil:. ACLU of Kentucky, Advocacy Action Network, Appalshop, Catholic Charities of Louisville, Catholic Conference, Centerstone Kentucky, Children, Inc., Community Farm Alliance, Fahe, Forward Kentucky, The Friedell Committee, Healthy Reentry 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 Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Kentucky Council of Churches, Kentucky Education Association, Kentucky Equal Justice Center, Kentucky Non-profit Network, 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, NAACP Branch 3107, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Lexington, National Association of Social Workers, Kentucky Chapter, The People’s Campaign, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, The Women’s Network, UFCW Local 227.

Dustin Pugel is a policy analyst for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy

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