Changes in food stamp (SNAP) regulations announced last week by the Trump Administration could cost up to 400 Letcher County residents their benefits, potentially affecting family members as well.
The changes will take affect in April, and are expected to cause more than 3 million Americans to lose their SNAP benefits. The changes primarily affect able-bodied adults ages 18-49 who don’t work at least 20 hours a week and have not reported dependents, however advocates for the poor say the changes will have unintended consequences.
Dustin Pugel, a policy analyst for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said as an example, a stepparent who does not work and does not claim a stepchild as a dependent would fall under the new regulation and lose his or her benefits. It might also affect a young couple with no children and only one household income.
“If you take SNAP away from one person, it affects the food budget for the entire family,” Pugel said.
It is still not clear exactly how the changes will impact the state in general, or Letcher County specifically. Pugel said most counties lost waivers in 2018 that allowed them to give food stamps to clients who qualify for other income-based benefits, so those counties won’t see that much change.
Letcher County was one of eight counties that still have a waiver under the Path to Promise Zone program. Other counties saw an average of 44 percent cut to the number of recipients under the waivers, while Letcher County saw about a 2 percent decrease. The state had not been applying for new waivers under Gov. Matt Bevin, and Pugel said it still isn’t known whether Gov. Andy Beshear will resume those applications.
If Letcher County’s waiver expires, Pugel said it could also amount to a cut of 40 percent or more. The new rule alone will count for about an 8 percent cut statewide, according to state government figures.
Letcher County is a little better off than most of eastern Kentucky counties in terms of the percentage of food stamp recipients. About 24 percent of persons here receive SNAP benefits, lower than all of the surrounding counties except Pike, where about 19 percent receive SNAP. That includes 5,254 individuals or 2,591 families.
The percentage cut in the dollar amount the county receives will not correlate directly to the percentage cut in recipients because people receive different amounts of SNAP benefits depending on income. Overall, families receiving food stamps now spend an estimated $608,833 on groceries each month, or an average of about $231 per family, two-thirds as much as the average American.
There are some ways for families to stretch those dollars.
The City of Whitesburg/ Letcher County Farmers Market allows food stamp recipients to double up to $20 of purchases, meaning they can buy $40 worth of food for $20 in SNAP.
“For those people come to the market, if they are cut, they’re going to lose that double benefit,” said Louise Murtaugh, outreach coordinator for the Farmers Market.
She said it’s not a large number of people on food stamps who use the market, but those who do have spoken to her about how little they have to spend.
“They are very careful shoppers, in my experience,” Murtaugh said.
The market also participates in a “Farmacy” program with Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation, through which people with certain illnesses who meet income requirements obtain vouchers from their doctors to buy fresh food at the Farmers Market.