CW 22 addresses food desserts in Kentucky, an issue that relates to many delegates.

On night one, the Senate 3 Committee finished with a strong presentation by Trimble County High School with Commonwealth Bill 22. The bill proposes that the state government subsidize 25% of yearly produce costs for Kentucky farmers who choose to supply local sellers rather than large companies. It’s also worth noting that the sponsors qualified “large” corporations based on individual store square footage rather than overall corporation size. Farmers who continue to supply large companies will not be penalized. The bill proposes that unclaimed state lottery money will provide the funds for the subsidy. The bill partners with the Community Farm Alliance but does not specifically outline plans with the group.

Proponents of the bill argue that it revitalizes the agriculture sector in Kentucky and that it will provide healthier food options in food deserts. Opponents of the bill acknowledge that the provision for unclaimed lottery money to pay for the subsidy may not be a sustainable source of funding as is also used to fund Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) money and other college scholarships. In addition, while the bill provides incentives for farmers to help make fresh produce available, it may not necessarily make produce accessible to everyone. The supply of fresh produce may increase but it is unclear how the demand will respond — will people be able to afford produce, a more expensive food source, when it becomes available?

I followed up with the bill sponsors to find out more — here are some of their responses. They believe that increasing the supply of produce in local vendors will increase competition and ultimately lower the price of produce to an affordable level. This will combat the current situation in which families in food deserts have to rely on dollar store or gas station food or travel 30 minutes away to reach a larger grocery store. The sponsors also elaborated on the Community Farm Alliance’s role in the bill’s provisions. Among other things, the organization collects data across the state on food insecurity; the bill will rely on this data to better understand where to supply the produce as well as where to promote the subsidy to farmers. With regards to the funding question, the sponsors believe that there will be more than sufficient funding for their subsidy. According to a report by the Legislative Research Commission under the Office of Educational Accountability, after the 3 million is set aside for childhood literacy programs, 45% of the funds go to KEES money and the remaining 55% go to other college scholarship funds. These funds could be redistributed to cover the subsidy. However, the amount of unclaimed lottery money may fluctuate, which could become problematic if it dips too low. The sponsors do not have an estimate of how much money the subsidy would annually require, but they expect to pay small farmers each about $40,000 (25% of the approximately $200,000 cost for getting produce to the market) for selling to local vendors.

We concluded our conversation by discussing their personal ties to the bill. The sponsors talked about how many families in their county struggle with food insecurity as they must rely on gas station and Dollar General food. In addition, the nearest Walmart to their town is 25 minutes away. They hope that their bill will be able to make produce more available and affordable in their town.

The bill will be debated in Senate A today. In summary, while the bill may be limited in its specific provisions for making produce affordable and its funding for the subsidy, it offers a way to revitalize the agriculture industry in Kentucky and provide healthier options to many areas that struggle with food insecurity. We wish them luck in their proceedings today!

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