Administrator, Food and Nutrition Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Re: FNS Docket No. FNS2018-0004, Comments in Response to Proposed Rulemaking: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Requirements for Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents
Dear Mr. Lipps,
I am writing as Senior Litigation and Advocacy Counsel of the Kentucky Equal Justice Center in response to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Request for Comments on the above-described proposed rule. The mission of Kentucky Equal Justice Center is to promote equal justice for all residents of the Commonwealth by serving as an advocate for low income and other vulnerable members of society. From our founding in 1976, KEJC advocated in the legislature, administrative agencies, courts, and the community for social safety net programs that 1) alleviate Kentuckians’ immediate suffering and 2) help lift people out of poverty in the long run.
The proposed changes to the SNAP program do neither. Instead, the proposed changes will increase food insecurity and hunger in Kentucky while doing nothing to create the conditions necessary for people to find work, find more work, find better paying work, and otherwise get the help they need to escape poverty.
Other organizations have already submitted compelling comments articulating the ways in which the proposed rule undermines Congressional intent with respect to the SNAP program and the dire impact the new regulation would have on underpaid, unemployed, and underemployed Americans. The USDA itself estimates that 755,000 people would lose more than $15,000,000,000 in SNAP benefits in the next ten years under the proposed rule change.
I am writing today to tell you that Kentucky has already implemented locally many of the changes contemplated in this national rule. The resulting loss in SNAP benefits in Kentucky have harmed underpaid Kentuckians and the struggling communities in which they live. Kentucky’s misguided experiment should not become a mandatory model for the nation. In fact, the nation should be moving in the opposite direction.
In 2017, Kentucky’s Governor decided to end time‑limit waivers for much of the state. This decision came despite the fact that many counties still qualified for waivers of the three-month time limit under federal criteria outlining economic disadvantage. The result of this decision? More than ten thousand underpaid and underemployed Kentuckians have lost their SNAP benefits. This decision to limit people to only 3 months of eligibility for SNAP benefits was made despite the fact that many people live in areas of the state with high unemployment and a dearth of jobs.
According to a report published by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy in November of last year, “Reinstated SNAP Time Limit Has Led to Thousands Without Food Assistance,” more than 10,000 Kentuckians “lost food assistance as a result of new barriers to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation erected by the state.” Between May and November of last year, the number was 10,097. The number of Kentuckians that have lost SNAP since November 2018 has no doubt increased.
Meanwhile, a report that was just released March 29, 2019 by the Urban Institute, “Reinstating SNAP Work-Related Time Limits” concludes that Kentucky’s policy means that people are losing SNAP benefits “without clear evidence that individual well-being is improving” and encourages policymakers to engage in more evaluation before implementing this kind of program nationwide.
In Kentucky, the maximum SNAP benefit for an individual is about $122/month. The loss of SNAP benefits represents a huge financial hole in a person or family’s monthly budget. Meanwhile, the notion that these benefits somehow discourage people from looking for work or more work or better work is laughable on its face. Though I am sure some families find a way to feed themselves on SNAP benefits alone, the benefit is hardly so generous as to rob someone of incentive to improve their circumstances.
Kentuckians who don’t have work want to work. Kentuckians who don’t have enough work want more work. And, many Kentuckians who have enough work aren’t being paid fairly for that work. For these Kentuckians, SNAP benefits provide a crucial lifeline and a small source of stability in their monthly finances. Losing SNAP hurts families, hurts workers, and it hurts the local economy.
Loss of coverage under the rule will not be distributed evenly in the Commonwealth. Multiple Kentucky counties routinely appear in “top twenty-five” lists of the poorest counties in the nation, all of them in rural areas. This article in the Louisville Courier‑Journal recognizes that 10 of the 25 counties in America experiencing the worst, most desperate living conditions are in eastern Kentucky. Lost benefits will hit rural individuals, households and economies harder than prosperous urban areas in the “golden triangle” of Louisville, Lexington and Northern Kentucky. The same can be expected from this rule nationally: the loss of SNAP benefits will likely hit rural individuals and rural economies hardest.
Implementation of the proposal would bring other disproportionate impacts, on minorities who historically face discrimination in hiring; on the re-entry population which faces unique barriers to finding a job; and more.
We urge you to withdraw this rule in its entirety and focus on improving and expanding voluntary programs, like SNAP Employment & Training, that have a chance of lifting people out of poverty in the long run. (Of course, SNAP E&T is facing its own challenges in Kentucky as outlined in another recent report by Kentucky Center for Economic Policy: “Time Limits and Other Challenges Hinder Success of Kentucky’s SNAP E&T Program.”)
Senior Litigation and Advocacy Counsel
Kentucky Equal Justice Center