Kentucky bill tightening public benefit rules passes

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A bill tightening public assistance rules passed the Kentucky legislature Wednesday night, but opponents who couldn’t stop the measure expressed relief with changes which they say eased some of their concerns about the restrictions.

The bill adding new rules and restrictions to Kentucky’s public benefit system cleared the Senate and House as lawmakers rushed to finish work on priority bills before an extended recess.

Supporters of the public benefits bill said the goal is to bring more people to self-sufficiency while preserving assistance for Kentuckians who need help. The main sponsors of the radical proposal are House Speaker David Osborne and House Pro Tem Speaker David Meade.

Opponents have warned the changes would hurt low-income Kentuckians.

By passing the bill before the start of the “veto period,” supporters retained their override power if Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoes the measure. The Republican-led Legislature will return to the State House in mid-April to complete its work for the 60-day session.

Supporters of the Public Benefits Bill have assured that it will not harm people in need of help.

“The only way to lose benefits is if you do something illegal or (you are) able-bodied with no dependents at home,” Republican Senator Ralph Alvarado said.

Senator 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 investigations and indictments for abusing the program, he said.

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

“We’re going to be spending more money than we’re saving by taking food off people’s plates,” said McGarvey, the Senate’s most prominent Democrat.

Meade later told the House that changes to the bill had reduced requirements for additional checks by the agency.

Republican Senate Speaker Pro Tem David Givens introduced an amendment to revise some language in the bill that he says could have “inadvertently” made it “a little harder to get the benefits when you have them.” really needed”. the measure and the House later accepted the changes, sealing its final passage.

McGarvey welcomed the changes, saying the amendment would potentially allow thousands of Kentuckians to continue receiving benefits.

During the House debate, Democratic Rep. Angie Hatton also said the changes eased concerns among opponents, but she continued to raise doubts about the need for the new rules.

“I just think it’s a matter of what keeps you up at night,” she said. . What keeps me awake at night is worrying that there are starving people out there who can’t jump through the hoops and get their benefits.

Despite the changes, Democrats still opposed the measure.

In promoting the bill, Meade cited studies that he said showed “it’s not just a small percentage of people who have been incorrectly enrolled” in Medicaid.

The bill represents a longstanding priority among many Republican lawmakers to strengthen public assistance rules. The goal, they said, is to wean more Kentuckians off programs like Medicaid and food stamps and into jobs that make them self-sufficient.

The bill would add new rules for benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid. In some cases, “able-bodied” Medicaid recipients without dependents will be required to participate in “community engagement” activities, such as jobs or volunteer work.

In another action Wednesday, lawmakers gave the final pass to a measure requiring local Kentucky school boards to set aside time for public comment at regular meetings. Under the bill, public comment periods would last at least 15 minutes or until comments are closed, whichever comes first. The comment period could be exceeded if no one asks to participate.