I am a small farmer. Last year, 50 percent of our income from one farmers’ market came from redeeming vouchers from the Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutritional Program and the Kentucky Double Dollars program.
When I saw that Gov. Matt Bevin wanted to eliminate state funding for the Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutritional Program, I was alarmed.
Eliminating the Senior FMNP would harm my income and cause me to stop vending at that market. Furthermore, thousands of food insecure Kentuckians who frequent markets like this one would suffer.
I turned to Community Farm Alliance and was relieved to learn that the Seniors FMNP is 100 percent federally funded, and that the governor is misinformed about what he can and cannot cut.
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But the inclusion of the Seniors FMNP on Bevin’s list of 70 programs slated to lose state funding raises concerns: In the attempt to cut our way out of budget deficits, would Bevin and other elected officials sacrifice low-income people and farmers? Doing so would make no sense.
Federally funded food and nutrition programs such as the Women, Infants, and Children FMNP and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program make it possible for low-income people to afford fresh food and are some of the most effective economic development tools we have.
When Moody's Analytics assessed different forms of stimulus, it found that food stamps were the most effective, increasing economic activity by $1.73 for every $1 spent. Unemployment insurance came in second, at $1.62, whereas most tax cuts yielded $1 or less. In fact, the study showed that expanding these programs is the most effective ways to “prime the economy’s pump.” Yet the governor would do just the opposite.
Funded with a combination of state, federal and private contributions, Kentucky Double Dollars, allows WIC and SNAP recipients to double their buying power when they purchase Kentucky-grown food.
Improving public health through access to fresh, nutritious food also has a positive economic benefit. According to a 2010 Harvard wellness program study, every $1 spent on wellness programs saves $3.27 in medical costs and $2.73 in absenteeism costs. And every $1 spent on nutritional and physical activity programs saves $1.17 in medical expenses.
Making sure that our most vulnerable populations have access to fresh, healthy food is a sure way to save the commonwealth money, as well as being simply the right, moral thing to do.
Almost 20 percent of Kentuckians (849,250) participate in SNAP alone, and they deserve access to healthy food. They spend $1.3 billion annually that could go into the pockets of local family farmers. SNAP and the other federal food and nutrition programs have the potential to not only create healthier families, but to create a baseline of support for farmers like me to build upon, especially young and beginning farmers.
Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and the Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy support the expansion of these programs.
The governor should follow their advice and look for more ways to leverage these federal dollars instead of threatening to cut the Senior FMNP over which he has no fiscal power. The Senior FMNP, WIC FMNP, and SNAP make Kentucky both physically and economically healthier, and the governor needs to support them for the well-being of all Kentuckians, including family farmers like me.
Joseph Monroe, who farms at Valley Spirit Farm in Henry County, is a member of the Community Farm Alliance.