Op-Ed: Republicans’ Work Requirements Will Hurt Rural Kentuckians
By Paul Walker, Democratic Nominee 1st Congressional District
The 2018 Farm Bill is an opportunity to retain necessary security for rural America and Kentuckians. Instead, Republican Representatives, such as my opponent James Comer, are using the bill to beat up on poor people.
During Wednesday’s Farm Bill hearings, Comer pushed for policy that would increase work requirements for Kentuckians seeking SNAP benefits and remove access to free and reduced lunch programs for hungry children.
This would be an exceptionally bad policy outcome for Kentucky. Once again, our leaders want to cut off our legs and then offer us crutches. The Bill is being held up because Republicans insist on chasing phantom “able-bodied” men who have no children who refuse to work.
The overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients are single mothers, disabled, over 60, and poor. The median income for all Kentucky SNAP recipients is around $15,000 per year. That means that many recipients already work, but are not paid enough to provide for themselves or their family.
According to the Kentucky Association of Food Banks 17 percent of the population in Kentucky is food insecure – that’s 743,310 people, including 222,380 children.
The USDA reported that SNAP provided about $1.11 billion dollars in food benefits to a monthly average of 768,882 people in Kentucky in 2015. While that seems to be a lot of money, the USDA notes that SNAP has an economic multiplier effect; every dollar in new SNAP benefits results in $1.80 in total economic activity.
The proposal by Republicans for the Farm Bill to seek out the few “able-bodied men” who aren’t working and take away their food security will be wastefully expensive and is much less important than shoring up the agricultural commodities markets that threaten farmers’ livelihoods and Kentucky’s overall food security.
Comer is literally trying to take food from families struggling to eat, as well as negatively affect local rural economies. This policy and cruel and short-sighted; it will ultimately lead to millions of families losing the food assistance they need so badly.
But Comer said that he is “proud of the bill” that will place people in jobs during a “booming economy.”
The “booming economy” is limited to the wealthy and the small percentage of people who own stocks. The problem is not that there is a shortage of workers, as Comer claims. There is a shortage of good-paying jobs in the 1st District. Stagnant wages continue to be the greatest challenge facing working families and our economies. And on top of that, annual farm income is down 51 percent, while agriculture commodity market prices and NAFTA renegotiations remain uncertain while our leaders look the other way.
Comer also said that “the House Farm Bill take steps to lift Americans out of poverty through the best assistance plan I know of, a job.”
But in order to qualify for a job, first he wants to take away their food. This is not the America we believe in: where a poor person must choose between spending earned money on food, shelter, or transportation – never having enough to cover all of it. Comer has said that transportation/infrastructure issues will be left up to the state. Passing the buck to avoid the actual details – rural communities do not have reliable transportation infrastructure to enable poor individuals to travel at low cost.
We should be investing in local job growth rather than punishing people who can’t find good jobs in a region where few good jobs exist. One doesn’t help workers by taking away their food – we help workers by providing ways and means to support themselves. And this happens by providing resources for local economies and businesses to grow and offer more jobs. All the job training in the world is useless if the jobs we train for are nonexistent.
My priority is to ensure that constituents have health security, food security, and financial security – this is done not by taking people’s health and food benefits away, but by building the infrastructure for education and job growth in the region.
We need representatives who care about their most vulnerable constituents, not representatives who want to starve them.
Paul Walker is the Democratic Candidate for Kentucky’s 1st Congressional District, and is also a professor of English at Murray State University.