FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – A top priority of House majority leaders —to reform how the state provides public assistance to its citizens – passed out of committee Thursday and now advances to the full chamber.
House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, and Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, was approved by the House Health and Family Services Committee. It now returns to the full House for further consideration.
“We have talked for years about how to make our public assistance systems work better. Most of the time those have been discussed, quite frankly, in a very punitive manner,” said Osborne. “This has been a legitimate and heartfelt attempt, particularly by Speaker Meade, on bringing a compassionate (aspect) to this.”
Key provisions of HB 1, among others, involve changes to cash assistance programs and eligibility for expanded Medicaid. Each cash assistance beneficiary would be placed on a single electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, with exceptions made for foster care, kinship care and similar program payments. Another provision in the bill could require expanded Medicaid beneficiaries who have been part of the state’s expanded Medicaid population for at least one year to work at least 80 hours a month in order to continue to qualify for Medicaid benefits.
The work requirement for expanded Medicaid—part of a “community engagement program” that would implemented by the state under HB 1—would kick in should the percentage of the state general fund Medicaid budget needed to provide the state match for Kentucky’s expanded Medicaid population reach 50 percent.
Those with earnings between 138-200 percent of the federal poverty level who no longer qualify for Medicaid because of increased income, but who otherwise qualify for Medicaid, could participate in a state health insurance option under HB 1. The program would provide the optional insurance to a qualified individual for 12 months or possibly longer.
Among those voting against the bill in committee was Rep. George Brown Jr., D-Lexington, who said many Kentuckians could be “banned from benefits for life” under HB 1.
“I’ve got serious problems with this, and my vote is no,” said Brown.
Rep. Daniel Elliott, R-Danville, said he thinks some of his colleagues on the committee may disagree on whether or not public assistance is misused or abused by some people.
“I believe that it is, and I think that’s what we’re trying to get at here. That’s why I’ll vote yes, because we’re stewards of the taxpayer dollar,” said Elliott.
HB 1 includes several recommendations from the 2019 Public Assistance Reform Task Force, which met several months before issuing the recommendations late last year.