Feeding Kentucky's Economy

More than 17,000 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients in eight Kentucky counties were set to lose their benefits in early 2016 from the lapse of a federal waiver. A federal regulation requiring that able-bodied adults must volunteer, work or go to school to receive SNAP benefits, better known as food stamps, had been waived since the 2009 recession. This rule limits SNAP benefit receipt to three months in every 36 months for unemployed adults aged 18-49 who are not disabled or raising minor children. For Fayette, Jefferson, Bullitt, Daviess, Henderson, Hardin, Warren and McCracken counties, the waiver expired January 1 and was not renewed. Kentucky, along with 21 other states, applied to continue the waiver in counties where the unemployment rates were still high. Unemployment rates in all except one of these eight counties were lower than the national average. Losing these benefits may not guarantee that the recipients can get a job, volunteer or go to school, however. These recipients may find it difficult to get a job, even at only 20 hours per week, in order to maintain eligibility for SNAP benefits. Employers are often biased against hiring those who have been unemployed long term. Often poor unemployed adults are unskilled and need training and job counseling to get back into the workforce. Training to help them increase their skills and become more employable is not always available. Sometimes, getting to work, or to volunteer or attend school is nearly impossible if transportation to get there is too expensive or unreliable. Sometimes, recipients could even jeopardize other important benefits, like housing subsidies, when their income from working increases but not enough to make up the difference of the jeopardized benefit’s loss. Losing SNAP benefits may also increase recipients’ food insecurity risks and further jeopardize their health. Already, Kentucky is at a 16.8% food insecurity rate, according to Feeding America. “Food Insecurity” is the USDA’s measure for when people do not have access to enough food for an active, healthy life. In Fayette County where nearly 2500 people will or have lost SNAP benefits, food insecurity rates are barely below Kentucky’s average at 16.6%. Overall, Kentucky ranks 17th nationally in food insecurity rates. For a single person, Kentucky’s monthly SNAP allowance is a maximum of $194 a month. Feeding America estimates the average Kentucky meal cost at $2.64. Thus, a single person receiving the maximum benefit can cover only about 2 ½ meals a day at the average cost. That assumes a person can get to a competitively priced grocery store to buy food. Recipients often must walk to grocery shop and figure out how to get their purchases home or shop closer to home at a convenience store. Shopping at small convenience stores where items are more expensive and less healthy ups the average meal cost and reduces the number of meals SNAP benefits cover in a month. May 1, 2016 was the deadline when the more than 17,000 SNAP recipients subject to the regulation would lose benefits had they not complied. The Courier Journal reported that about 9,000 people lost their benefits that day. The loss of SNAP benefits for those 9,000 able-bodied adults affects Kentucky’s economy. The USDA estimates that $5.00 of food stamp income to those who spend their resources, and poor unemployed adults meet that definition, can stimulate the economy by about $9.00. Assuming they received only the average Kentucky benefit of $117.84 a month as estimated by the Kaiser Family Foundation, $1,060,560 income is lost for local Kentucky grocers, farmers and convenience markets monthly. By using the USDA’s economic stimulus rates of $9 for every $5, the economic loss to Kentucky is $1,909,008 for every month the collective recipients do not gain eligibility. By doing the math, more than 8,000 did not lose their benefits May 1, meaning, among other things, they found work, volunteer opportunities or training to comply with the regulations; increased their income to where they were ineligible; or voluntarily gave up their benefits before the deadline. The number who voluntarily withdrew from benefits was not easily measurable when this analysis was completed, thus the economic loss to local Kentucky communities is likely higher although not currently quantifiable.

Brenda Combs is the Business Director of Legal Aid of the Bluegrass, one of four Kentucky Civil Legal Aid Programs. Ms. Combs has served in this role for 26 years and has extensive experience in the areas of technology, grants administration and financial and human resource oversight. A graduate of Murray State University with a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, she has a passion for using data to ignite change for vulnerable Kentuckians.

Sources referenced in article:

Kentucky Herald Leader: Work requirement resumes for food stamp recipients in eight Kentucky counties

Feeding America: Food Insecurity in Kentucky

The PEW Charitable Trusts: Hiring Bias Against the Unemployed-Should There Be a Law?

USDA: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)- How Much Could I Receive?

The Huffington Post: What It’s Really Like to Cook on a Food Stamp Budget

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation: Average Monthly Food Stamp Benefits Per Person

Courier-Journal: Food stamp cutoff looms for 9,000 in KY

The Facts Behind Senior Hunger- NCOA

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