LOUISVILLE-- The data is in and the number of people receiving SNAP benefits are down in Kentucky. But health advocates say it isn't actually good news.
The number of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients is down 12 percent overall, and among what are being called 'able-bodied adults without dependents' it's down 30 percent from January 2018 through September 2018., according to a study from the Urban Institute. This after the Commonwealth instituted work requirements for get SNAP benefits.
"Any time a person doesn't have access to adequate food, we know that increased food insecurity leads to worse health outcomes," said Jason Dunn.
Dunn serves as the policy advisor for Kentucky Voices for Health. He says the work requirements for SNAP benefits have panned out just as he expected.
"It's what I expected, that we would see large amounts of losses of coverage once these were put in place," said Dunn.
In late 2017, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services started rolling out work requirements for SNAP benefits, making most 'able-bodied' individuals either look for work or work 20 hours a week.
A new study from the Urban Institute calculated that more than 13,000 'able-bodied' SNAP participants have lost benefits since the work requirements started.
Dunn says he takes issue with the term 'able bodied.' "The term able-bodied in and of itself is a pretty loaded term. Everybody has a different definition of what able-bodied means. And just by its name, it doesn't necessarily take into consideration mental health issues and substance use issues that may be preventing people from taking a job. But we do know that by and large, when people are able to work, and the economy is really good people do work."
He says history proves his argument. "With the recession we had so many people come back on, and then when the economy improved, so many people left the program. So, we had a 25 percent reduction in the SNAP population during the recovery with no work program in place, said Dunn.
Currently eight counties in southeastern Kentucky don't have the work requirements in place because of a lack of available jobs and other factors. But the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities calculated based on the USDA waiver requirements,Jefferson, Fayette and Warren Counties would be the only counties with work requirements.
Dunn says he hopes CHFS takes this study and reconsiders the work requirements. "I would like to think that the more evidence they see that these are harmful policies that they might take a different approach. I was able to confirm yesterday, if Kentucky were to take advantage of these waivers, 117 out of 120 counties in Kentucky would be eligible to not operate a work program at this point in time because of economic conditions in the counties."
The numbers show that people are leaving SNAP, but it doesn't necessarily say why they are leaving. Kurt Reiber, the President of Feeding Kentucky, formerly known as the Kentucky Association of Food Banks, said, "The number of families going to the seven member foodbanks of Feeding Kentucky is increasing. While we can’t attribute the entire increase to the change in state policy towards SNAP benefits and the work requirement, the policy change has had an impact."
The Cabinet for Health and Family Services has not yet responded to requests about this.