Legislative Update - August 17th, 2020
For a state as agriculturally diverse as Kentucky – farmers grow or raise 10 different food commodities that individually bring in at least $100 million a year – hunger regrettably remains a tall hurdle for us to overcome. That challenge became even tougher with the arrival of COVID-19, although there are areas where real progress is being made.
Legislators learned more about this issue late last week during a meeting of the General Assembly’s Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee, which monitors how settlement dollars are spent on programs benefiting agriculture, early childhood development and our collective health.
According to a presentation by Feeding Kentucky, more than 270,000 Kentuckians did not have enough to eat in late July, and that number could increase by 40 percent or more over the next year because of the pandemic.
One in six older Kentuckians is food insecure – which is the highest rate in the nation – and the same holds true for more than 190,000 children. There is quite a lot of work being done, however, to bring these numbers down. Our schools, for example, deserve considerable credit for providing meals remotely to their students since March. Jefferson County Public Schools alone has distributed more than 1.8 million meals this way.
Feeding Kentucky’s executive director told legislators last week that food banks have understandably seen a spike in demand. This organization serves all 120 counties through a network of more than 800 locations, and last year, they distributed nearly 100 million pounds of groceries to families in need, enough to supplement 79 million meals. This year’s numbers will undoubtedly be much higher.
In 2011, the General Assembly created Farms to Food Banks to give these families better access to fresh produce. Over its lifetime, this program has provided 21 million pounds of fruits and vegetables for 35 million meals while paying 1,000 Kentucky farmers a combined $4.2 million. We distributed many pounds of this yesterday at Lakeview Park in Frankfort.
Another program that has helped put food on the table is Kentucky Hunters for the Hungry. It began in 2000 and now annually provides as much as 70,000 pounds of processed venison, which is enough for more than 500,000 meals.
One positive trend that has picked up in recent years is the purchase of more locally sourced food. The long-standing “Kentucky Proud” program (Kyproud.com) helps us identify many of these products in the store and our communities, and our farmers’ markets have grown increasingly popular over the years. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture says there are 167 now in nearly every county staffed by nearly 2,800 vendors. Last year, these markets generated almost $13 million in sales.
Another presenter at last week’s Tobacco Oversight Committee discussed Kentucky’s Double Dollars program, which leverages federal food programs like SNAP in a way that effectively gives those who qualify the chance to buy twice as much from local producers. That benefits families and farmers alike.
With more of us eating at home now, the University of Kentucky’s Cooperative Extension offices have been working to help people both grow their own food and then cook it properly. In more urban areas like Louisville, the Extension offices have also been helping to manage community gardens that more than one family can access.
These and other efforts are positive examples of how we are tackling hunger, but there is still a lot of work to be done – and that work will still be there even after the pandemic is over.
If you or someone you know is hungry, please don’t hesitate to contact me or your local food bank. Other legislators and I have a staff that can help families facing challenges like these.
You can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me using the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.
Thanks for all you do and holler anytime.