Kentucky governor says ending COVID emergency early would cost millions in food stamps

Published 9:42 pm Monday, March 14, 2022

Struggling Kentuckians would lose extra food stamp benefits if a Republican-backed measure to end the COVID-19 state of emergency early becomes law, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday.

The state’s GOP-dominated legislature finished work on the measure last week, sending it to the Democratic governor. Beshear hasn’t taken action on the measure but condemned it as “politics at its worst.” The resolution cleared the legislature with enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto.

Kentuckians stand to lose massive sums in extra food stamp benefits, the governor said at a news conference. Beshear said his administration consistently pointed to the extra federal food stamp benefits when discussing the virus-related state of emergency with legislative leaders.

“Ending this state of emergency, cutting $50 million worth of food to our people, is wrong,” he said. “And for what? There are no COVID restrictions in Kentucky. None. And there haven’t been for six months. … They won’t do anything for individual liberty because there isn’t a restriction out there.”

“All they’ll do is take food off the table of struggling seniors and struggling children,” the governor added. “My faith tells me that’s wrong.”

State Senate President Robert Stivers said the resolution states that lawmakers have no intent to “impair or delay” the state’s ability to receive pandemic-related federal funds. Stivers suggested another potential remedy for the extended food benefits through the emergency regulation process.

“If the governor needs something from the legislature, he still has time to come to us and we have time to respond,” Stivers said in a statement Monday.

As the resolution moved through the Senate and House, Republican lawmakers trumpeted it as a signal that life is getting back to normal after the long fight against the pandemic. But some Democratic lawmakers had expressed concerns that the resolution could inflict damage.

Beshear’s administration pointed to the looming impact on food stamp benefits as an example.

If the governor and lawmaker “don’t figure something out fast,” the resolution may cost the Bluegrass State a huge amount in extra food benefits, said Dustin Pugel, a senior policy analyst with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

As of February, about 544,000 low-income Kentuckians qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Because of the pandemic, the federal government has provided about $50 million more in monthly SNAP benefits to Kentucky, Pugel said.

But the legislature’s action on the resolution would cause the average benefit of $243 a month to drop by about $100, Pugel said. The federal government can only provide the extra benefits to states with an emergency declaration related to COVID-19, he said.

“It’s seniors with fixed incomes and the working poor and their families who will be see their benefits shrink the most,” Pugel said.