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By Tamara Sandburg
Demand for emergency food assistance has increased significantly as families in Kentucky have been pummeled by the recession and an unemployment rate over 9 percent. Too many are forced to accept reduced wages and hours while gas prices are up over 30 percent and food prices are up more than 6 percent. In the end, struggling families are finding it harder than ever to make ends meet.
Members of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks served 84 percent more people in 2010 than in 2006. At the same time, donations and other sources of food have dropped significantly.
Federal anti-hunger programs like SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) are helping to ensure that Kentucky families can put food on the table. With over 700,000 of our neighbors in Kentucky struggling with hunger, including 24 percent of our children, these programs are more important than ever. Consider that from 2007 to 2010 - as unemployment grew by 110 percent - SNAP participation grew by 53 percent. There is no indication that it’s getting better.
But even as need and demand continue to grow, we are hearing about potential cuts to the anti-hunger programs that help keep our neighbors from going hungry. Programs such as SNAP and TEFAP are remarkably efficient and effective at helping struggling Kentuckians. If those programs are cut, our food banks would not be able to fill the gap.
And it’s not just adults who are suffering. Half of all SNAP participants are children. In fact, 84 percent of SNAP benefits go to households with a child, senior, or disabled member. In addition to providing a critical safety net for hungry Americans, SNAP also supports our state economy, with every dollar of spending through SNAP benefits generating nearly two dollars in economic activity as benefits are spent.
There are a lot of misconceptions about anti-hunger programs and while we sometimes hear the sensational stories of program abuse, the truth is these examples are rare. For every allegation of fraud, there are thousands of stories of heartbreaking need of parents who have lost their jobs, seniors who have seen a lifetime of savings decimated by market down-turns or exhausted by medical costs, and people who never thought they would need a helping hand, but who now have nowhere else to turn.
Cuts to federal anti-hunger programs would be devastating for the over 700,000 Kentuckians struggling with hunger and would have long-term costs far greater than any short-term savings. Kentucky’s food banks are already struggling to keep up with current demand; we will simply not have the capacity or the resources to meet the increased need for food from our neighbors if funding for these programs is reduced significantly.
Food is our most basic human need and fighting hunger has long been an issue on which both Republicans and Democrats could agree. Nobody wants to see children go to bed with rumbling stomachs, seniors forced to choose between paying for medication or buying food, or parents going without food so their children can eat.
As our nation’s leaders grapple with the annual appropriations process and deficit reduction efforts, please take a moment to tell our members of Congress to strengthen and protect federal anti-hunger programs. You can be connected directly to your legislators through Feeding America’s toll-free number at 1-877-698-8228.
Editor’s note: Tamara Sandberg is the executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks. The association is comprised of seven Feeding America food banks serving all 120 counties of Kentucky.