Times Staff Report
July 2, 2013
FRANKFORT – Kentucky may examine whether it’s possible to distribute SNAP funds twice monthly to help those on food assistance better balance their food budgets after hearing a state senator’s suggestion on the matter, a legislative committee was told Tuesday.
Beth Jurek, who is the Policy and Budget Director with the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee that she will look into whether a recipient’s current SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) funds—formerly known as “food stamps”—can be split into two rations per month on their EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards. Kentucky SNAP recipients now receive their ration electronically once a month.
The change was suggested by Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, a former grocer who said he has found many recipients have trouble budgeting for a month’s worth of healthy food when they receive their SNAP distribution only once a month. The recipients often buy non-perishables, which Higdon explained may last longer than most fresh fruit or vegetables but are not necessarily nutritious.
“Instead of milk, (some) get Mountain Dew because they’ll last all month and they can budget that; they known how many Mountain Dews they’ll need to make it through the month,” said Higdon, who said a twice-monthly distribution would be helpful.
“These low-income families—we wouldn’t have them running out of food at the end of the month,” he said. “They might run out on the 13th day and 26th or 27th day, but they wouldn’t go whole weeks without food.”
Jurek said changing the distribution would give recipients their distribution on a “more frequent basis,” although it would mean less money offered at one time. She also said the federal government ultimately governs such a change.
“All the rules for food stamps are set by the federal government,” said Jurek, who said she would find out whether the EBT cards can be loaded twice a month. “If they can, I will (find out) what it would take to do that and if that’s a possibility.”
Approximately 874,094 Kentuckians receive SNAP funds, according to the USDA. The funds are distributed once monthly onto the EBT cards which are then used at grocery stores or at other food vendors like convenience stores.
Many Americans, including Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, have expressed concerned about the future of SNAP funds under this Congress as it debates the passage of a new U.S. farm bill.
“I think we all should be concerned about what’s going to happen there and the potential cuts that we’re going to be looking at just to maintain the status quo…,” Webb said.
The issue of nutrition was raised by Rep. Mike Denham, D-Maysville, who said educators in his area tell him that poor nutrition and hunger impacts a child’s ability to learn. About 65 percent of children in Denham’s district qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, he estimated.
Besides SNAP, programs like WIC—which basically gives pregnant women and young children what Jurek called a “food prescription” for better nutrition—along with summer feeding programs and school backpack food programs are helping to feed children, said Jurek. She said the state is also considering possibly allowing families to apply for SNAP benefits online—something that would be particularly helpful to low-income families that might not have transportation to apply for benefits in person, Jurek explained.
“We’re not there yet,” with online application for SNAP benefits, she told the committee.
The committee also received the annual report on the state’s Early Childhood Development Initiative from representatives of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood and the Early Childhood Advisory Council. Twenty-five percent of the state’s tobacco settlement dollars—which are overseen by the committee—go to early childhood programs in Kentucky.
Other testimony came from the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy, which reported on projects considered for funding during the June meeting of the state Agricultural Development Board.