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September 24, 2013

In Kentucky Some Fear, Some Cheer Proposed Food Stamp Cuts

by Brian Padden

Depending on one’s political perspective, the $40 billion cut to the U.S. food stamp assistance program - recently passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and now under consideration by the Democrat-led Senate - is either a measure to curb a growing culture of dependency or is cold indifference to those most in need.  The debate over food stamps continues in Kentucky, a southern state with one of the highest poverty rates in the United States.

The Shively Area Ministries near Louisville, Kentucky, operates a food distribution program in an area where the poverty rate has risen from 11 to 18 percent in the last decade.  Marvin Pogue, a disabled veteran, depends on this private charity to supplement the $34 a month in food stamps he receives.  Cutting his assistance further, he says, would be punitive.

“That’s crazy. I mean we’re not getting enough now to get by through the month," he said. "That is why we are having to go to outside facilities.”

Coordinator Sister Jean Anne Zappa says the program feeds 20,000 families a year.  The ministry was able to increase private contributions after the U.S. Department of Agriculture cut its donations to food banks almost in half last year.  She says it will not be able to fill the gap if the proposed cuts to the food stamp program go through.

“We cannot do it alone. We need to be in partnership with the government because we are our brother’s keeper," she said. "We are our sister’s keeper.  We are one people.”

But many working class people at a Louisville veterans' picnic expressed support for the proposed food stamps cuts, especially the provision that would require adults to find jobs or job training, or lose their benefits.  

Christina Shank, a mother of two, says too many people are too dependent on government hand-outs.

“The people that work deserve a chance to receive food stamps," she said. "And the people who don’t work, I mean, people need to get up and work for what they have.  I think it is a good decision.”

Zappa says most of the people who receive food stamps are working, and many are single mothers taking care of children.  They are just not making enough money in this stagnant economy to support their families.   

“There is a thing called 'food insecurity' that we are looking at," she said. "So you may be a working person and you just don’t have enough food for the end of the month for your family.  That is different than someone who is in dire poverty all of the time.”

She says as the economy improves, the number of people needing food stamps will drop. But critics say pushing people off assistance and into the workforce will lead to economic improvement.