Cuts in SNAP benefits affecting most vulnerable

November 5, 2013

One step forward and two steps back. That may be how some receiving assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly referred to as food stamps, are now feeling after Congress allowed a temporary increase in assistance to expire last week.

As a result, the average family stands to lose $36 in assistance per month. For some that may not seem like a lot, but to 20 percent of the families in Kentucky, particularly in Eastern Kentucky, who receive assistance through SNAP it is likely a different story.

While other regions may be experiencing an economic recovery from the recession, Eastern Kentucky has instead felt the negative effects of America’s transition to cleaner energy sources. Our region has lost more than 6,000 coal mining jobs, and we hear every month that more are likely on the way in other sectors. And yet, on June 25, President Obama noted the need to “give special care to people and communities that are unsettled by this transition.”

Not only has that “special care” yet to materialize, we’re realizing now, due to the partisan divide in Washington, D.C., that just the opposite is occurring. And like any other kind of austerity, those who can afford it the least are feeling it the most. In Kentucky, according to federal data, more than 540,000 children and elderly people are affected by the cuts in assistance. That is out of 875,000 total SNAP recipients statewide.

The boost in SNAP, made possible through the 2009 federal stimulus, was meant to be a temporary measure. And we’re well aware of the need for the federal government to reign in spending. Benefits like these, however, are supposed to help provide a safety net so people can get on their feet. What is happening instead is that some folks are just getting the rug pulled out from under them, and in Eastern Kentucky it is happening at the worst possible time.

We are also aware of the notion that abuse exists in federal entitlement programs like SNAP, with people abusing their benefits. However, we think very few of the 540,000 people referenced above are among the offenders.

There is room for reform in the system, just as there is in every system, but cutting assistance to the elderly and children doesn’t seem like the kind of reform we need.

— The Hazard Herald