The General Assembly Took Small Steps to Reduce Hunger in 2024 But Could Have Gone Much Further 

Republished from Kentucky Center for Economic Policy

The General Assembly took meaningful but modest steps toward alleviating hunger in Kentucky during this year’s legislative session, funding several measures to make food more readily available to kids and seniors in the biennial budget. These moves will ensure more Kentuckians have access to quality, nutritious food, a key part of building thriving, healthy communities. In the waning days of the session, the General Assembly also prevented passage of a harmful bill that would have resulted in severe cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Despite these successes, there were several missed opportunities to go even further in improving food security that should be taken up in the next session. 

Important food supports included in the budget 

The General Assembly increased the budget allotment for Kentucky’s Farm to Food Banks program by 42% in 2025 and 67% in 2026. This program benefits nearly every county in Kentucky by providing food banks and pantries with food from local farms. Additionally, the budget includes enough funding for the Department for Aging and Independent Living to provide food assistance through the Senior Meals programs without the waiting lists that have plagued the program.  

Notably, Kentucky children will receive millions of dollars in summer meal benefits thanks to the General Assembly’s decision to include administration funding for the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) program in 2025 and 2026 (the benefits themselves are federally-funded). This means kids that receive supports through free and reduced school meals, SNAP, Medicaid and K-TAP will automatically receive $120 for groceries beginning this summer to replace the meals they would otherwise receive at school. This decision was far from a guaranteed outcome as 13 states have chosen not to participate in Summer EBT, including seven Southern states.  

General Assembly rejected major cuts to our strongest tool in the fight against hunger 

Two ultimately unsuccessful bills would have had devastating consequences for hunger. House Bill (HB) 367 would have put Kentuckians, particularly kids and seniors, at risk of losing food assistance in two ways. First, it would have lowered the income threshold for SNAP by eliminating a policy known as Broad Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE). This would result in nearly 65,000 Kentuckians losing assistance and over $110 million in federally-funded grocery money denied to state and local economies each year. Second, it would cut access to SNAP by preventing the state from quickly waiving work reporting requirements in areas with high joblessness or during an economic downturn, putting 16,000 Kentuckians’ food assistance at risk. 

HB 235 would have made Kentucky’s limited SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) mandatory for a broad range of participants aged 16 to 59. That means over 80,000 Kentuckians would have been required to participate in a work-related program in exchange for grocery help, according to agency data. While these supports have been helpful for people who choose to participate in them, making them mandatory puts food assistance at risk and has not been shown to improve employment outcomes.  

Both of these bills, alongside a set of bills eliminating rest periods at work and exacerbating worker misclassification, were backed by the Florida-based Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) and other extreme anti-government organizations. 

Bills to improve food assistance programs didn’t move 

There were several missed opportunities this year to improve food security that the General Assembly should focus on next session. For example, HB 189 and SB 40, the “Kentucky Proud School Match Act,” would have prioritized local food purchasing and created a cost-per-meal reimbursement for school districts serving low-income students participating in the community eligibility provision.  

HB 93 would have created the Healthy Farm and Food Innovation Fund,  establishing a structured state fund capable of pulling down federal dollars or receiving state or philanthropic dollars to invest in innovations to address food insecurity in Kentucky and support food and agriculture programs, such as Kentucky Double Dollars, Farms to Food Banks and food is medicine programs. 

SB 34 and HB 734 would have made broad improvements across safety net programs supporting mothers and families with young children. In this missed opportunity, there were four key components that would have improved food security: 

  • Allowing people leaving incarceration to apply for SNAP prior to release, so they can quickly receive food assistance they are eligible for upon release. 
  • Expanding the SNAP E&T program to offer the same work supports as the Kentucky Transitional Assistance program. 
  • Allocating $2.2 million to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to establish a school meal reimbursement program (similar to the one established in HB189 and SB40) and to support the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, providing money for seniors with low incomes to spend at farmers markets across Kentucky.  
  • Allocating nearly $600 million to expand the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program to allow farmers markets in Jefferson County to accept WIC. 

With one in eight struggling to put food on the table, the General Assembly must take more than modest steps to alleviate hunger.  While it’s good lawmakers rejected cuts to our best tool against hunger, SNAP, Kentuckians need the state to expand access to this vital program, along with others that keep people fed. That’s how we ensure that families in all corners of Kentucky have what they need to build healthy, prosperous lives.

The post The General Assembly Took Small Steps to Reduce Hunger in 2024 But Could Have Gone Much Further  appeared first on Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

Republished from Kentucky Center for Economic Policy