It is said that Kentucky is a poor state and, for many areas of the state, that is true. But poverty is not something peculiar to Kentucky. Neither is hunger.
Known as "food insecurity"--which basically means poor access to sufficient amounts of nutritious, affordable food--hunger is a national problem. The anti-hunger organization Feeding America reports that the nation's food insecurity rate for 2015 (the most recent statistical year) was 13.4 percent, leaving about one in eight Americans without reliable access to good, healthy food. Many of those hungry Americans are children, Feeding America reports, with one in six children, or 17.9 percent of American's kids, lives in homes without enough food to eat.
In Kentucky, food insecurity is somewhat worse than it is nationally. Statistics from Feeding America's Map the Meal Gap study for 2017 show that 15.8 percent of Kentuckians are food insecure, encompassing 699,590 adults and children. Kentucky would need an additional $334.9 million to meet its food needs, the study reports.
So, what is Kentucky doing about its hunger problem? Quite a bit. The Kentucky General Assembly stepped up to the plate by passing legislation in 2011 that created the Kentucky Farms to Food Banks Program, a program of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks (KAFB) that buys fresh produce from Kentucky farmers and gives it to food insecure families in all 120 counties at no cost. The families benefit by having healthy, fresh food they would probably not otherwise have, and the farmers benefit by having a new market for their produce and an increased average cash flow of $1,355 per farm!
It's a great program, and we lawmakers know it.
That's why we voted during the 2016 legislative session to include $1.2 million in the current state budget for the Farms to Food Banks Program. The funds come from master tobacco settlement funds that Kentucky receives as a result of a 1998 multi-billion-dollar tobacco settlement with major tobacco companies and 46 states, with the same dollar amount appropriated in prior budget cycles.
We really never miss a chance to recognize our food banks for the work they do. The General Assembly has declared one day a year Kentucky Food Bank Day for several years to honor these great organizations. We changed the designation this year to Hunger Free Kentucky Day to recognize the broader intent of our food banks which, just last year, distributed over 58 MILLION meals through its network of pantries, soup kitchens and other groups. It's an effort that is making a real difference in the lives of Kentucky families and overall food insecurity in the state, lowering the state's food insecurity rate from 17 percent last year to below 16 percent today.
So improvement is being made, by our food banks and the individuals who support them -- including many of you!
Let me say something: The great majority of people who need food assistance are struggling Kentuckians in poverty, often with children, who have to decide whether to buy food or pay the electric bill, buy gas for their car, or buy medicine for themselves or their families. You can learn more about them by logging on to the KAFB website at kafb.org.
If you like, you can directly help decrease our food insecurity population in Kentucky by donating a portion of your state income tax refund each year to the Farms to Food Banks Trust Fund in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. The tax check-off was created by the 2012 General Assembly with passage of House Bill 419 and took effect during the 2013 tax season. Before the check-off, the Farms to Food Banks Trust Fund, established in 2009, had not received any funding.
So there are lots of good things happening to decrease food insecurity in Kentucky, and lots of ways for you to be part of the effort. I hope you will join others in lending a hand to those less fortunate.
Have a good week, and we'll talk soon.