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Report: Locked Out SNAP Recipients Face Barriers To Returning


Health advocates say more than 10,000 Kentuckians have lost access to SNAP benefits, popularly known as food stamps, as time limits have been reinstated in most Kentucky counties. Now, a new report suggests many recipients face barriers to reactivating those benefits. 

During the recession and recovery, a three-month time limit on SNAP benefits for childless, non-disabled adults working less than 20 hours a week was waived in every Kentucky county. Some counties had been exempt from the get-go.

"There are places in Kentucky that have always had these requirements waived, so they are happening for the first time," says Dr. Ashley Spalding with the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

Spalding says that’s left many beneficiaries to grapple with new, unfamiliar rules she describes as “complex." To regain access, recipients can opt for help through education and training programs – dubbed SNAP E&T – that allow them to keep the benefits while, in theory, becoming more financially independent.

The problem, she argues in a new report, is that there are barriers – from transportation to a modest $25 stipend to a lack of Kentucky Career Centers across the state, where recipients must apply to receive training at partner organizations. 

"And that's why we see, when you look at the numbers in 2018 that were served by these partner organizations – Goodwill, community colleges – these are really low numbers," she says. "We don't see many people participating in SNAP E&T through these organizations."

Currently, just 37 operating centers exist in the 112 counties affected.  

Supporters counter that work requirements get recipients of government assistance more involved in their benefits and spur them to look for employment.

"There is dignity associated with earning the value of something you receive," Governor Matt Bevin has argued. Speaking about his administration's proposed Medicaid changes, the Republican said Kentuckians want "an opportunity not to be put into a dead-end entitlement trap, but rather be put on a path forward and upwards so they can do for themselves."

Complicating matters is the looming government shutdown, which could throw food stamp funding into doubt if the stalemate on Capitol Hill persists. Without action, SNAP dollars could run dry in the coming months. 

"What the state is doing is going ahead distributing funds for February this month... to make sure that everybody's taken care of, but there's really no gaurantee for March," Spalding warns. 

Reports suggest some federal reserve funds that could be funneled to states if the shutdown lingers, but she says that remains “a big question mark.”

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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