Top priority bill reforming public assistance advances to House

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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.

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“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.

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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at tkenny@wtvq.com. You can also follow Tom on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomKennyABC and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.