Politics
5:01 pm
Wed September 4, 2013

Report: One in Six Kentucky Households Cannot Afford Healthy Food

Credit File photo

One in six Kentucky households report having serious problems affording nutritious food, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The report released on Wednesday also reveals basic hunger needs in the state have increased over the past decade even as lawmakers in Washington are proposing to dump millions of food stamp recipients.

Of the approximately 285,000 Kentucky households experiencing food insecurity, about 113,000 had at least one or more members living in the home forced to reduce their food intake. The agriculture department's report shows 15.6 percent lack adequate food choices, a five percent increase since 2003.

Many argue government help such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program combat those hunger issues. But food stamps face a possible $40 billion worth of cuts in Congress, which could eliminate benefits for up to 6 million Americans.

Jason Bailey is director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. He says the cuts are coming at a time when many families are still struggling economically.

"It’s not like they’re also proposing to create 4 to 6 million jobs that these folks can get to provide enough income for them to pay for their food needs. It’s an incredibly cruel and counter-productive proposal at a time when unemployment is still high," he says.

Republican lawmakers who favor the cuts argue the legislation is needed in order to address the country's growing deficit problems. Others point to tighter restrictions on requirements that will eliminate fraud and waste from the program.

SNAP funding is already scheduled to receive a cut when a provision from the 2009 stimulus bill expires this year. But in recent years food stamps have been another dividing ideological line.

From The New York Times:

Over all, nearly 48 million Americans in the richest country in the world now receive food stamps, an $80 billion-a-year program that is increasingly the target of conservatives.

Robert Rector, a scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation, argues that the food stamp program should be overhauled so that benefits are tied to work, much as welfare was revamped under President Clinton. He advocates mandatory drug testing for food stamp recipients — a position that draws support from Mr. Rigsby, who dreams of becoming a game warden and said it irritates him to see people “mooch off the system.”

Congress is expected to deal with proposal when lawmakers return to Washington next week, but Bailey and others are pressuring Kentucky’s federal delegation to address the state's growing hunger crisis beforehand.

In a telephone interview, Congressman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., told WFPL he opposes the cuts, adding the majority of food stamp recipients are children, disabled or elderly.

"I voted against the farm bill because of the cuts that it imposed on food stamps," says Yarmuth. "Unfortunately, now House Republicans want to cut the program further. And that's totally unacceptable in a time when food insecurity across the country and specifically in Kentucky has grown to very alarming levels."

Earlier this year, the House passed a measure separating food stamp funding from agriculture policy in the farm bill for the first time in four decades.

Around 850,000 Kentuckians receive SNAP benefits and the cuts could disproportionately impact rural parts of the state.

"In Kentucky, the cuts the House proposes to add would throw 88,000 Kentuckians off of SNAP," says Bailey. "So this would severely worsen the problem benefit because you’d have a whole lot of Kentuckians who have very low incomes all of sudden would not be able to receive the benefits that they need to provide their basic food needs.

The other five members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation, who are all Republicans, did not respond to our request for comment.

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