Kentucky GOP renews efforts to tighten controls on public benefits

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House Republican leaders introduced a new plan to tighten controls on the state’s public benefit system, like food assistance and Medicaid, in a sweeping measure tabled this week.

House Bill 7 follows several years of previous efforts to restructure public assistance programs. These efforts have been controversial with advocates, who have said the changes are too harsh and will create barriers for people to get the help they need.

The new measure, sponsored by Representative David Meade, Acting Speaker, and House Speaker David Osborne, revives some of the previous proposals and would create a new legislative “public assistance advisory and oversight committee” as a watchdog. custody benefit programs.

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It adds a host of new rules for benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, Medicaid and cash assistance for the poor, and charges the Cabinet for Health and family services to implement them.

And the bill would allow the attorney general to sue the firm if it fails to follow certain rules.

A spokeswoman for Meade, R-Stanford and Osborne, R-Prospect, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In 2020, when both presented a similar billthey said it was designed to crack down on fraud and encourage more people to leave public assistance and get jobs.

Speaker of the House David Osborne, R-Prospect, speaks about a proposed redistricting plan on December 30, 2021 in Frankfurt.

A spokeswoman for the firm, which would administer most of the changes, said it would hurt Kentuckians “including vulnerable people who receive health coverage through Medicaid and food assistance through SNAP, which has been so important during COVID.

“Overall food insecurity in the United States is 10.9%,” spokeswoman Susan Dunlap said in an email. “Here it’s 14.4%. Among children nationally, the percentage is 14.6. Here it’s 17.9%.”

She added that HB 7 would also have broader negative impacts within communities, including grocers who provide SNAP assistance, and hospitals and providers who provide health care to one in three Kentuckians.

Dustin Pugel, senior policy analyst for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said the bill contains a host of new requirements and penalties that will likely make it harder for people to get and keep benefits.

“It’s kind of death by a thousand cuts in the safety net system,” he said. “There are a lot of small changes that will make things more difficult.”

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, described the bill as a “mixed bag” with some elements that could benefit children but others that “are really problematic for Kentucky families.”

For example, Brooks said he supports increased efforts to provide drug treatment to those incarcerated and to protect victims of domestic violence from certain penalties.

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And the bill exempts payments for child care, kinship or child care from some of the proposed rules.

But Brooks said he fears a second instance of fraudulent transfer of a benefit card could result in a public assistance ban.

“None of us want abuse or fraud, but none of us want to create a permanent underclass of citizens who can never make ends meet,” he said.

And Brooks said the multiple new requirements people must meet to get benefits, and the added burden on the state to oversee them, create a “big government, big brother style of running the state.”

Pugel said the bill would require a lot more oversight from the state’s family support workers at a time when the firm is struggling to recruit and retain these workers in jobs so low paid that some of the workers themselves are entitled to state aid.

“It’s going to require more people if you can even keep the people you have,” he said.

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Pugel said the bill would likely result in significant administrative costs for the state. The previous bill proposed in 2020 would have added about $20 million in administration costs.

Among the main changes, HB 7:

  • Eliminate the state’s ability to exempt able-bodied adults without children from a work requirement for SNAP child support benefits. In the past, the state had been able to grant exemptions on grounds of hardship.
  • Tighten food stamp eligibility standards that would make even modest assets such as a used car or a small retirement account count for the claimant and force the state to scrutinize those assets more closely.
  • Increase reporting requirements for any change in status, such as a move to a new address or a temporary increase in income that could expose people to penalties, including loss of benefits, even for inadvertent errors. Pugel called this a “gotcha” layout.
  • Ending the state’s ability to grant “presumed eligibility” for the Medicaid health plan for low-income people, a process by which a person can obtain temporary benefits for three months via a simple application until whether she completes a detailed application or leaves the program. The use of this process has been expanded during the pandemic to provide faster healthcare to those in need.
  • In some cases, “able-bodied” Medicaid beneficiaries would be required to participate in 80 hours per month of “community involvement” activities, such as jobs or volunteer work, similar to the work rules that former Governor Matt Bevin unsuccessfully tried to implement in Medicaid.

The bill also clarifies that people using public assistance money cannot use it to buy alcohol, tobacco and vapor products, lottery tickets, tattoos , body piercings, and in adult entertainment venues in which “performers undress or perform without clothes”.

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And it recommends people use at least 75% of food aid to buy “healthy foods” such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Pugel said the bill appears to presume people are taking advantage of benefit programs or engaging in fraud when statistics show fraud is very low. For example, fraud is considered less than 2% in the federal SNAP program.

In Kentucky, SNAP provides about $1.6 billion a year in food benefits to about 530,000 people, the majority of whom are children or adults over age 60, Pugel said.

And the families that receive benefits typically belong to households with low-income working adults, he said.

“We’re talking about the working poor like the majority of adults who use SNAP,” Pugel said.

Contact Deborah Yetter at dyetter@courier-journal.com. Find her on Twitter at @d_yetter. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/subscribe.

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