Whitesburg KY

Food stamp cuts will affect 43% of Letcher homes

Forty-three percent of the households in Letcher County will be affected by a decrease in monthly food stamps benefits that begins Friday, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS).

Of 9,300 households in the county, 4,038 are enrolled in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), according to information from CHFS and the U.S. Census Bureau. A total of 879,771 SNAP recipients live in Kentucky. Of that number, 8,024 live in Letcher County, representing 33 percent of the county’s population of 23,952.

The long-term change in benefits will depend on household size, income and expenses, the cabinet said. A household of two that currently receives $367 a month will likely see a decrease in benefits by $20 a month to $347 per month.

Increased SNAP benefits provided in 2009 under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will soon expire.

Stimulus funding, which Congress has not voted to extend, boosted every participating household’s benefits in 2009 by 13.6 percent — a two-person household would have received $44 more each month.

“The additional funding made a significant impact on our customers’ access to nutritious foods,” said Teresa James, CHFS’s Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) commissioner. “Though we are disappointed this extra funding is lapsing, we will still provide benefits to eligible customers and connect them with other community resources that can help feed their family healthful meals on a lower budget.”

James said customers can access their specific benefits changes and receive alerts by logging on to the state’s SNAP customer service website: snapfoodbenefits.chfs.ky.gov.

Customers cannot appeal the change in benefits because the decrease is a result of a change in federal law.

DCBS administers the Kentucky food benefits program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) in every county.

At the national level meanwhile, the fight over renewing the nation’s farm bill has centered on cuts to the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program. But there could be unintended consequences if no agreement is reached: higher milk prices.

Members of the House and Senate are scheduled to begin long-awaited negotiations on the five-year, roughly $500 billion bill this week. If they don’t finish it, dairy supports could expire at the end of the year and send the price of a gallon of milk skyward.

There could be political ramifi- cations, too. The House and Senate are far apart on the sensitive issue of how much money to cut from food stamps, and lawmakers are hoping to resolve that debate before election-year politics set in.

The farm bill, which sets policy for farm subsidies, the food stamps and other rural development projects, has moved slowly through Congress in the last two years as lawmakers have focused on higher-profile priorities, like budget negotiations, health care and immigration legislation.

But farm-state lawmakers are appealing to their colleagues to harken back to more bipartisan times and do something Congress hasn’t done very much lately — pass a major piece of legislation.

Even President Barack Obama, who has been largely silent on the farm bill as it has wound through Congress, said as the government reopened earlier this month that the farm bill “would make a huge difference in our economy right now.”

“What are we waiting for?” Obama said. “Let’s get this done.”

The main challenge in getting the bill done will be the differences on food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The House has passed legislation to cut around $4 billion annually, or around 5 percent, including changes in eligibility and work requirements. The Senate has proposed a cut of around a tenth of that amount, and Senate Democrats and President Obama have strongly opposed any major changes to the program.

The cost of SNAP has more than doubled over the last five years as the economy struggled, and Republicans say it should be more focused on the neediest people. Democrats say it is working as it should, providing food to those in need when times are tough.

Some of the information used in this report was gathered by The Associated Press.

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