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Kentucky House passes bill that would make it harder for people to qualify for SNAP benefits

A grocery-store aisle is shown, with apples, oranges and other fruits on display.
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The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program helps low-income Kentuckians buy groceries.

Kentucky’s House Bill 367 could exclude people from SNAP benefits if they have a few thousand dollars in savings.

The Kentucky House of Representatives voted Thursday to approve House Bill 367, which would reinstate a financial asset test and make income requirements more restrictive for applicants to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy estimates the policy change would drop over 25,000 Kentucky households off SNAP benefits.

“I want to know: How poor do you have to be in Kentucky to be worthy of food? That is the question of the day,” Louisville Democratic Rep. Sarah Stalker said during Thursday’s debate. “We're talking about a basic need, and a right.”

Earlington Republican Rep. Wade Williams, the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation’s goal is to “make sure that everyone that's on SNAP should be on SNAP.”

Williams also aims to reduce Kentucky’s worker shortage with this legislation. He said Kentucky’s current SNAP policies make it “too lucrative to stay on government benefits and keeps people from getting back in the workforce.”

HB 367 would give the Kentucky Legislature control over when the state can ask the U.S. government to waive work requirements for SNAP recipients in economically disadvantaged parts of the commonwealth. Right now, a state cabinet agency has that authority.

This policy change on SNAP work requirements ultimately would affect certain “able-bodied adults without dependents” who get food benefits.

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has ranked Kentucky's worker shortage as severe. Kentucky's workforce participation is in the bottom tier of our nation,” Williams said Thursday. “The pandemic is behind us, and it's time for a thoughtful solution on how we get more workers back into the workforce.”

Democratic lawmakers warned HB 367 would impact far more than just “able-bodied adults” who can work. The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy estimates at least 21,400 children live in households that would lose SNAP benefits if the bill becomes law.

Democrats also said making SNAP’s eligibility rules more restrictive would penalize working families who depend on that assistance.

HB 367 would reinstate maximum asset limits of $2,750 for SNAP applicants, according to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. The limit is $4,250 for seniors and people with disabilities. Certain types of assets are excluded from those calculations.

Most states don’t apply the asset test for SNAP.

Additionally, the limit for gross income — meaning money earned before applying taxes and other paycheck deductions — would decline from 200% of the federal poverty level to 130%.

Households with higher qualifying assets or gross incomes could lose SNAP benefits.

“Under this bill, people in poverty can't save for a car. They can't save for a down payment or a security deposit. … They can't build up an emergency fund in case somebody gets sick or loses their job,” Louisville Democratic Rep. Josie Raymond said. “We want our General Assembly to build up a healthy budget reserve fund. But we're literally going to prohibit families from doing the same thing.”

HB 367 still needs the Kentucky Senate’s approval to become law.

Morgan is LPM's health reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.