LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The Federal Reserve raising interest rates was meant to help slow down rising costs in the economy, including the cost of food. One Kentucky policy analyst explains that food is 10% more expensive now than last year. Many are worried about the possibility of a recession and higher unemployment, which could lead to more financial strain for families.
37-year-old Tania Whitfield has two young daughters, ages 8 and 9. She tries to make sure they have a balanced diet including some special treats every now and then. She uses the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to help feed her family. She works with the Kentucky Food Action Network to make sure she and her community's voices are heard.
Whitfield shares, "It gets expensive. You know, and that's what a lot of people don't understand. You know when you go from, you know spending $3 on stuff to spending $6 and $7, that's gonna change it."
As a server in Lexington, Whitfield has felt the rising costs of groceries. She’s even had to make the tough decision between healthy choices, and cheaper sugary ones. Now, she spends as much as $800 a month on food, that's much more than her rent. In the last month, her benefits went from more than $650 a month to $400.
"It's a big difference, and if you know another way to still get the same amount of food I’m all for it,” says Whitfield. There are many contributing factors to rising food costs including the war in Ukraine. Both Ukraine and Russia make up one-third of the world's wheat, 20% of global corn, natural gas and fertilizer, and 11% of the world’s oil. Benefits like SNAP and WIC are available to families based on a family’s household income. In March of 2020, Congress increased those benefits, giving everyone in need the maximum allotment, a part of emergency relief. States could use this if federal public health emergencies were in place and a state of emergency related to COVID-19. April was the last month for benefits in Kentucky, and by May added benefits dropped on average by $100 per person.
Kentucky Center for Economic Policy’s Senior Policy Analyst, Dustin Pugel, says, “On a big scale, that looks like about $50 million per month, in grocery money in Kentucky that we're not seeing anymore."
This senior policy analyst explains that the worry is that raising rates too high, too quickly -- could result in lower investment in businesses, which can lead to job loss -- that would put
more strain on struggling families.
Pugel explains, "The USDA which makes those benefits, they're gonna keep doing that for states that do have a state of emergency in place -- probably at least through November. Which means that Kentucky is going to miss out on about $50 million." "That is my safety net and when you take that from somebody -- and it's not even for me. If it was just me, I wouldn't care. I would just deal with it, but I have two little girls that I have to think about,” says Whitfield.
She wants politicians to hear communities fighting for basic needs. She wants them to consider what their lives would be like as parents on tight budgets with limited benefits.
"It's harder and harder to be a parent. You know, because you're trying to keep them as innocent as possible with everything going on in the world you can’t. So, you gotta try to keep some things, as much as you can, innocent for them as you can. But a lot of people just don't understand that, you know, they wanna talk about it, but they don't really get what's going on,” shares Whitfield.
In addition, to snap benefits being cut, the analyst LEX18 spoke with, believes that summer will be especially tough for families with kids.
He says the USDA also allowed schools to offer free meals for kids -- those waivers have also expired. At the end of this month, those meals will no longer be available either.