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House GOP Farm Bill Would Make It Harder To Qualify For Food Stamps

Kumar Rashad is worried about his students. Most days, he said, one of his students at Breckinridge Metropolitan High School will tell him they’re hungry.

“A lot of our kids go without. There’s a lot of kids in our district that don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Rashad said.

And almost every day, Rashad — a math teacher and Jefferson County Teacher’s Association board member — is prepared. He brings food from home, in addition to buying a school lunch, because he knows a student will need it to get through class.

But legislation being considered in Congress could create even more hunger among students. A large number of students in Kentucky live in households that get money from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. To qualify as a family of four, the income limit is about $31,563 a year, and as of February of this year, 613,772 Kentuckians have SNAP.

Money for SNAP runs out in September and federal lawmakers have to reauthorize funding for the program as part of the Farm Bill, which also includes several other programs that support farming and agriculture in the U.S.

But this year, the U.S. House has proposed making it a little harder for people to keep SNAP. Right now, any parent with a child under 18 can get SNAP, and be exempt from having to work 20 hours a week to keep benefits. The proposed Farm Bill would change that. Instead, only parents with kids under age 6 would be exempt from the work requirement. That means many of Rashad’s students would have even less food in their homes.

“The Farm Bill would take a lot of our parents off food assistance program and that would just really hurt,” Rashad said. “Something like this, you’re going to have more hungry students and that means I’m going to be coming out of my pocket way more because I can’t do my job if they can’t do theirs.”

Hunger creates a lot of problems for teens and children, like trouble concentrating, fatigue and agitation.

“There’s almost no point in coming to school if you’re hungry,” Rashad said.

The SNAP benefit wasn't designed to buy groceries for a family for an entire month, but rather as a supplement. Nationally, 80 percent of SNAP money is spent within the first two weeks of the month. In Kentucky, the average household receives $260.78 in SNAP a month.

More Program Changes

The Farm Bill would make other changes to SNAP as well. Currently, in most of Kentucky, if a person is between age 20 and 49 they must work 20 hours a week to keep their SNAP benefits. The U.S. House wants to increase the age 59, so people between 50- and 59-years-old would have to work to keep SNAP benefits.

People with SNAP currently get three months in a three-year time period to not work, but keep benefits. After that time they’re locked out of benefits, but can regain SNAP at any time. The Farm Bill would do away with that three-month grace period and instead would lock an enrollee out of SNAP for a year if they don’t fulfill needed hours for one month.

SNAP also requires that recipients only have a certain level of countable resources, like the amount of money in a bank account, for example.

Households without an elderly or disabled member may have up to $2,250 in countable resources, and households with an elderly or disabled member can have up to $3,500. The House-version of the Farm Bill would mandate SNAP include vehicles in that resource assessment. In addition, the state each month would have to verify the person’s work hours and income, instead of every six months.

Jason Dunn is the former director of the Kentucky Division of Family Support, which oversees SNAP. Dunn said all the changes will increase the cost of overseeing the program.

“Regardless of whatever technology a state might put into place to expedite those new things, ultimately it’ll either slow down the application process or require additional staff,” Dunn said.

The House is expected to vote on the bill next week, and the Senate is currently working on its own version. That might not include the SNAP changes, but this week, President Trump said he would veto a bill that doesn’t tighten the work requirements in the program.

Kentucky U.S. Rep. James Comer said in a news release that he supports the provisions tightening SNAP eligibility.

“Let’s be clear: seniors, those with a disability, anyone caring for a child under the age of six and pregnant mothers are all exempt from those requirements.” Comer wrote. “This ensures our neighbors in need can put food on the table and put themselves back on the path to financial independence."

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.

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