Mary got up today before dawn, bundled her two kids out the door for school and headed to her job in the service industry.
After putting in six hours — the maximum her employer allowed for the day — she drove her kids from school to her mother’s house. Then she headed to her second job. Hours later, after helping with homework and attempting to catch up on laundry, she collapsed into bed.
Mary is working hard to raise her kids after her husband stunned her with a divorce last year. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) has been helping Mary keep nourishing food on the table while she works to get back on her feet.
The food banks and food pantries in the Feeding Kentucky network can share a multitude of stories similar to Mary’s. Many, many Kentuckians are a lost job, a sick baby or a car accident away from needing help getting through a rough patch.
When these all-too-common challenges arise, SNAP helps people get the food they need. It is the nation’s first line of defense in the fight against hunger. SNAP provides nine meals for every one distributed by our network of food banks.
What is particularly galling to us on the front lines in the fight against hunger is the mistaken narrative that if you need help putting food on the table, it is because you are too lazy to work.
The trope of the lazy freeloader who is gaming the system is not backed by data. According to USDA, over 99% of those receiving SNAP benefits are eligible "and payment accuracy was 96.20 in 2011 — a historic high.”
Yes, there are some bad actors, just as there are in any system involving human beings. But for every anecdote about someone’s brother’s neighbor’s abuse of SNAP benefits, we can share thousands more of people like Mary.
The myth of the SNAP program being overrun by cheaters is apparently guiding many policy decisions that would be harmful to too many Kentuckians.
The most recent example is Kentucky’s House Bill 1. While the proposal does include some good measures, we are concerned that it contains unnecessary and punitive provisions that would take away crucial support from Kentuckians.
For example, it assumes many people are misusing SNAP and other benefits and establishes new penalties, including new lifetime bans on public assistance programs. It would also reduce the food budget for homes with children in them by taking away food assistance from nonparental adults who cannot prove they completed enough work hours.
Space limitations do not allow us to share the examples we have heard of people who did work the required number of hours but were not able to navigate the bureaucratic red tape to report it. And there are many other cases of people who wanted to work more but had their hours cut by their employer.
Adding burdensome reporting requirements and layers of bureaucratic red tape to catch a few bad actors is not worth the potential loss of benefits to the overwhelming majority who are doing all they can to keep food on the table. Not to mention the likely huge additional administrative cost to the commonwealth.
We urge our legislators to reject legislative proposals that would take food off the tables of their constituents. Please don’t act on stigmatizing stereotypes that don’t reflect reality for the hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians who are doing their best to make ends meet.