Kentucky bill tightening public benefits rules clears Senate

The bill’s opponents warned it would punish low-income Kentuckians

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Legislation to tighten rules for public assistance moved closer to final passage Wednesday as Kentucky lawmakers rushed to finish work on priority bills before an extended break.

The bill revamping Kentucky’s public benefits system won 24-12 passage in the Senate. The vote broke mostly along partisan lines, with a few Republicans joining Democrats in opposing the bill.

The measure was sent back to the House for a potential final vote. The sweeping proposal’s lead sponsors are House Speaker David Osborne and House Speaker Pro Tem David Meade.

By passing the bill before the “veto period” begins, the bill’s supporters would retain their override power if Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoes the measure. The Republican-led legislature will return to the statehouse in mid-April to finish its work for the 60-day session.

Supporters of the public benefits-related bill said the goal is to steer more people into self-sufficiency while preserving assistance for Kentuckians truly in need.

“The only way you can lose benefits is if you’re doing something illegal or (you’re) able-bodied with no dependents at home,” said Republican Sen. Ralph Alvarado.

The bill’s opponents warned it would punish low-income Kentuckians.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey pointed to statistics showing extremely low rates of fraud detected in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. And Kentucky has a high rate of investigating and charging people for abusing the program, he said.

A state agency recently told lawmakers that the bill’s reporting and verification rules would dramatically drive up its administrative expenses.

“We are going to spend more money than we are going to save by taking food off of people’s plates,” said McGarvey, the Senate’s top-ranking Democrat.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Givens presented an amendment to fix some language in the bill that he said might have “inadvertently” made it ”a little more difficult to get the benefits when you do actually need them.” The Senate added the amendment to the measure.

McGarvey praised the changes, saying the amendment would potentially enable thousands of Kentuckians to keep receiving benefits.

The bill represents a long-running priority among many Republican lawmakers in Kentucky to tighten rules for public assistance. The goal, they said, is to wean more Kentuckians off such programs as Medicaid and food stamps and into jobs that make them self-sufficient.

The bill would add new rules for such benefits as food stamps and Medicaid, while standards for food stamp eligibility would be tightened. In some cases, “able-bodied” Medicaid recipients would be required to participate in 80 hours per month of “community engagement” activities, such as jobs or volunteering.

In other action Wednesday, lawmakers gave final passage to a measure requiring Kentucky’s local school boards to set aside time for public comments during regular meetings. Under the bill, public comment periods would last at least 15 minutes or until comments end, whichever occurs first. The comment period could be passed over if no one requests to participate.


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