The Local Impact of the Food Stamp Debate

Oct 27, 2013

 Just as the federal government came to a grinding halt, a bill responsible for feeding millions of Americans quietly expired. It is this Farm Bill, which contains funding for food stamps, known as the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

36 year-old and Paducah resident Aleatha Moore is one of those Americans. 

And she said there’s no way she can live without federal assistance.

A childhood car accident left Moore with a host of problems, including slurred speech, and dependent on the help of others her whole life.


Aleatha Moore of Paducah received brain damage from a car accident as a child and has received federal assistant her whole life. She says she can't survive without the help.
Credit John Paul Henry

"We was in Memphis and we got hit by a semi," Moore said. "It left me partially brain damaged and I can't remember stuff, and all my whole right side is partially paralyzed." 

Moore lives with constant pain and can’t work. 

She’s just finished lunch at the Community Kitchen in Paducah. She's sitting in a living room area, adjacent to the cafeteria and kitchen.. 

Moore’s great aunt, Patricia Ferguson is with her, as she is most days to help out at home , especially since Moore lost her 12-year-old daughter in July. The loss of Moore’s daughter -also- meant a drop in her SNAP benefits. 

Moore had been receiving 119 dollars per month for food. Now? Now, She receives the base amount, 14 dollars. Patricia Ferguson.

"That never was enough," Ferguson said. "That's just what we had to make work. But we had something to make work. Fourteen dollars is the same as saying, 'If I could give you nothing, I would. But the law says I gotta give you something, so here's a penny. I mean, a $14. Same thing."

That 14 dollars is meant to feed a family of two: Moore and her teenage son.

"And my son is a big boy, and he eats," Moore said. "I'm going to need more help now because he's 13."

Ferguson said that without her help, Moore would not be able to make it on her own. 

According to a USDA research, more than seventeen percent of Kentuckians, like Aleatha Moore and her son, are food insecure. That means they don't always have access to food, or don't know where their next meal will come from. 

Danielle Bratsch, who was also at the Community Kitchen, started receiving SNAP benefits two years ago when she quit her job because of complications with her pregnancy. Her boyfriend has been unemployed since 2000. She has a different perspective than Aletha Moore and her great aunt.

"You know if food stamps get cut out, if disability checks get cut out so be it," Bratsch said. "I don't think we need it anyways. It would be a little hard. But I would go out and get a job, because it's the requirements of how I've always been raised. Go out and get a job and make ends meet."

Bratsch said she sees a lot of abuse in the system, like people selling the stamps for alcohol or drugs. She admits to not spending food stamps wisely, like buying sodas when on road trips.

When asked where she wants to be in a year:

"Hopefully not where I am now, cheating the government and using the stamps for stupid things," she said."

Kevin Concannon understands this cheating is happening. He is the United States Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services.

Concannon said 1.3 cents for every dollar distributed through SNAP are trafficked. This is down from about four cents a little over a decade ago.

"We're not satisfied even with that, but we have been making steady progress on reducing the trafficking, the sale of benefits," Concannon said. 

According to the USDA, about 850,000 Kentuckians receive SNAP benefits. That totals about $1.3 billion annually. Meaning about 17 million dollars are lost to trafficking each year. 

Concannon worries trafficking hurts confidence in the program, which he expects to be discussed along with the Farm Bill next week. 

"The Senate is proposing a $4 billion cut over ten years and the House is proposing a $39 billion cut over ten years. I mean, it's a matter of how many million people it would knock out in the House version," he said."

And, just as the Farm Bill quietly expired on Oct. 1, the added SNAP benefits from the 2009 stimulus bill are also due to expire at the end of this month, right about the time congress sits down to discuss the future of SNAP.