If you are one of the over 19,000 of Kentuckians who volunteer at a food bank or food pantry each week, you have a sense of the kinds of struggles too many families in our commonwealth face.
You see single mothers who earn too little to feed themselves and their families, despite working long hours. You hear from people who have recently lost their jobs because they had to take care of a sick child or parent. Others may tell you heartbreaking stories about medical debt from an unexpected health care crisis that is squeezing their family budget.
The members of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks distributed the equivalent of 58 million meals last year throughout Kentucky. Despite the large volume of food distributed by our network each year, we struggle to keep pace with the demand because of the high need for food assistance in Kentucky. Food banks make a difference to the commonwealth, but we can’t do it alone.
Many of the people who walk through our doors also use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to afford healthy foods at the grocery store. Sixty-five percent of households served by a food bank in Kentucky receive SNAP benefits. We help them meet a short-term need while SNAP helps them get by on a day-to-day basis.
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That’s why anti-hunger advocates will be watching to ensure our most vulnerable neighbors are taken into consideration during the congressional budget debates.
We are deeply concerned that the budget plan passed by the House Budget Committee in July would dramatically cut SNAP and change the way the program works in our state. These harsh cuts to SNAP, along with cuts to other poverty-reduction programs in the budget proposal, would pull the rug out from beneath the most vulnerable in our society, including children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
With minimal input — average benefits are only $1.36 per person per meal in Kentucky — SNAP has a huge impact. It keeps 164,000 Kentuckians out of poverty each year, including 73,000 children, and puts thousands more on the path to a better life. And research shows that people who received SNAP as young children are more likely to graduate from high school and are less likely to suffer from costly long-term health problems like obesity and heart disease. Keeping our families healthy and strong is good for all of us here in Kentucky.
People who use SNAP spend their food assistance dollars at local grocery stores, supermarkets and other retailers. Kentucky businesses see $981 million pumped into our economy every year thanks to SNAP, in turn creating jobs and opportunity for more of our neighbors. And fewer people need to come to food banks — which is a very good thing.
As Congress continues the budget process, I hope the members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation will keep in mind how important SNAP is to so many Kentuckians.
Despite our best efforts to meet the need for food assistance among our neighbors, Kentucky’s food banks could never make up the difference if SNAP was cut. Our members of Congress should oppose the House budget plan as written and work instead to craft a budget that protects SNAP and other poverty-reduction programs.
Whether or not you spend time volunteering at a food pantry, we all have a part to play in lifting up our communities. We at the Kentucky Association of Food Banks are urging our leaders to oppose any budget that proposes cuts to SNAP and other poverty-reduction programs. We must protect these programs and the millions of Americans who use them to feed their families and meet other basic needs.
Tamara Sandberg is the executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks, representing seven food banks.