Many Kentuckians will express their thanks for their good fortune this Thanksgiving by serving meals to hungry neighbors, donating food to those whose cupboards are empty, and donating money to deserving causes.
This giving enriches our communities and assists those in urgent need, but defeating hunger, poverty, and poor health needs more than neighborly kindness. Hunger cannot be eradicated solely via charity.
To win this war, we must all work together to demand a whole-of-government response that addresses low wages, health care, and food access, especially as grocery costs increase and safety net programs are under attack.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides 9 meals for every 1 provided by food banks and assists over 550,000 Kentuckians in purchasing food each month, is an important part of that response.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, SNAP assists 1 in 10 underpaid Kentucky workers, including thousands of servers, home health aides, retail workers, and school personnel, in putting food on the table.
In fact, 1 in 4 of the cashiers who rung up your Thanksgiving food used SNAP to help them buy their own. That is if they could even afford to buy them.
Food costs have risen dramatically in the last year due to the pandemic and war-induced inflation, which has resulted in the greatest 12-month increase in food prices since 1979.
Thanksgiving favorites have been particularly heavily struck. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of butter is up 26.7%, flour is up 24.6%, and bread items are up 15.5%. Turkeys are also among the most costly they’ve ever been, because of bird flu.
The good news is that SNAP benefits increased by an average of 12.5% last month to account for inflation. This adjustment was much needed after SNAP recipients spent most of 2022 getting payments based on 2021 food expenses.
However, Kentucky households do not receive as much SNAP assistance as they should. Congress responded in March 2020 to ease hunger amid the epidemic and associated downturn by paying the maximum SNAP benefit amount per individual rather than the regular prorated amount depending on income.
This resulted in an extra $100 per individual and $50 million for the state each month. These additional benefits would be available to Kentuckians as long as the federal and state governments maintained COVID-19 emergency designations.
However, with the approval of Senate Joint Resolution 150 during Kentucky’s most recent legislative session, the General Assembly ended the state’s public health emergency, depriving more than 500,000 Kentuckians of those additional benefits.
Meanwhile, the federal government’s public health emergency will last until at least April 2023, by which time the average Kentucky SNAP member will have lost more than $1,200 in grocery money.
That money may be put to good use in Kentucky, where the USDA reports that 12.3% of households are food insecure. This is one of the top ten worst rates of food insecurity in the country, and it is approximately 2% higher than the national average.
That money would have also boosted local economies, since it would have been spent rapidly at farmers’ markets and grocery stores, benefiting Kentucky farmers and retailers. SNAP not only feeds us but also keeps us healthy.
According to research, those who receive SNAP are less likely to remain homesick, require medical attention, or postpone care due to cost when compared to people with similar low incomes. They also spend far less on healthcare than other low-income folks who do not receive SNAP.
People who use SNAP to supplement their food budgets face fewer hard choices, such as having to pick between food and medicine. Kentucky residents require state and federal authorities to understand the critical role SNAP plays in their health and well-being.
This program, as well as other safety net services, must be bolstered by the adoption of a robust Farm Bill and other measures that emphasize providing food assistance to low-income families.
And this Thanksgiving, whether we use SNAP or not, we should all realize that it contributes to the kind of healthy, prosperous Kentucky we all want to see.