A woman in Owaley County, Kentucky, which has the lowest median income of any county outside of Puerto Rico, is coping with the drop in her monthly federal food assistance from $367 to $303 by cutting back on meat purchases and buying more canned goods and macaroni and cheese,

She is one of the more than 47 million Americans who receive food stamps, all of whom saw their allotment drop on Nov. 1 as a temporary benefit from the 2009 economic stimulus package ran out.  Few places feel the difference as profoundly as Owsley County, an overwhelmingly white and Republican area whose own representative in Congress voted against renewing the benefit.  Food stamps are vouchers that can be used to purchase groceries.

The drop came ahead of the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s call for a “War on Poverty,” an initiative aimed at expanding the government’s role in education and health care as poverty reduction strategies.  The food stamp program grew out the initiative Johnson launched with his Jan 8, 1964, speech.

Across Kentucky, nearly 900,000 people who need food stamps saw a proposed cut of $40 billion from the food stamp program, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Owsley County, home to 4,722 residents, is poor even by Appalachian standards.  Its median household income of $19,351 is the lowest in the 50 states.  The county is more than 99 percent white.  Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney received 81 percent of the vote in Owsley County to 18 percent for Democratic President Barack Obama in last year’s election.

In 2009, the last year available, government benefits accounted for 53 percent of personal income.

Over 41 percent of residents, four out of ten, fall below the poverty line.  In 2011, the most recent year available, 52 percent received food stamps.

Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, who represents the 5th Congressional District that includes Owsley County, voted not to renew extra funding for the food assistance program that had been allocated as part of the federal stimulus in 2009 — a vote critics called a cutback — even though it affects about a third of his constitutes.

Rogers said the program is needed in eastern Kentucky, but is also badly in need of reforms to keep “scammers, lottery winners, gamblers and others who may be able to work” out of the program.  Rogers won re-election in 2012 with 84 percent of the vote.

Conservatives are pushing cuts as they seek to target benefits to the neediest people, arguing that those who are truly hungry should have no problem getting assistance if they apply.  The final bill will most likely crack down on states that give recipients $1 in heating assistance in order to trigger higher food stamp benefits.  Republicans say anyone who truly qualifies for a higher benefit still can get it through SNAP.

Republican State Sen. Robert Stivers represents Owsley County and the neighboring area. Stivers said a dependence caused by food stamps and other assistance has led to a devaluing of education among some recipients and contributed to drug abuse in the region.

He went on to say that the poverty level is the same as 50 years ago and food stamps has not been a successful program because it has not reduced the level of poverty in this country.

Regardless of your dislike for government programs, we as a society either feeds the poor or you cut off all government assistance to everyone.  But I ask you…who made you God?   We, as a society, will still pay regardless, because people will resort to criminal means to get the money to buy food.

I better idea is to make them all “work” for this benefit through jobs programs that involve public works.  At least that way, you are getting something back in return for this government handout.  And for those people unwilling to participate, then they go without.

 

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