Economic security means a family is able to meet financial needs in a way that promotes their children’s well-being by addressing their physical, emotional, and educational needs. All children deserve to have these needs met, yet many parents require temporary help to do so. Whether due to unemployment or underemployment triggered by the recent recession, low wages, or a family crisis, parents seek help in meeting their children’s basic needs from programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps) or the Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program (KTAP, formerly called welfare).
Mounting research confirms common sense knowledge that economic insecurity, such as living in poverty, is associated with numerous negative consequences for children. When children live in poverty they often live in constant stress, and that stress can affect them into adulthood. Living in poverty increases a child’s risk for developing emotional, behavioral and physical health problems and struggling academically. Especially when children are not provided with adequate nutrition to fuel their bodies, they are more likely to face barriers to success. These findings are particularly troubling for Kentucky, where more than one in every four children lives in poverty. Fortunately, poor families have access to safety net programs such as SNAP and KTAP that can help offset the negative outcomes associated with poverty.
SNAP is an effective program for fighting hunger in the United States by helping low-income families buy needed food for their children. The program has been especially important in the years after the economic downturn. In fact, SNAP is the second most responsive safety net program in America.
Many families in Kentucky depend on SNAP benefits to put food on the table. In January 2013, 20 percent of the state’s population received SNAP, with more than one-third of those beneficiaries being children. Throughout 2013, an average of 313,152 Kentucky children a month depended on SNAP to meet their nutritional needs. Over the past 9 years, the number of Kentucky children receiving SNAP has steadily increased, with the greatest increases occurring during the recent recession.
The average number of children receiving SNAP increased sharply during the recession between 2008 and 2011.
KTAP is another important support for families in poverty. KTAP is time limited: families can only qualify for assistance for five years over a lifetime. During particularly hard times, KTAP helps families stay afloat by providing funds for necessities such as utility bills, transportation, and housing.
In Kentucky in 2013, 37,259 children received KTAP benefits on average each month. KTAP has been much less responsive to meeting the needs of the growing number of children in poverty. Each state receives a set amount of money for KTAP from the Federal government, known as a block, grant that does not change based on need, so the program did not receive additional money during the recession to cover the additional people requiring assistance, unlike SNAP.
These programs function as tools for minimizing the effects that living in poverty has on children. Children across the state depend on these programs – without them, their health, safety, and education would be at stake. For healthy and successful children across the Commonwealth, we need to protect these valuable supports for our most vulnerable children.