In the last days of the General Assembly, we urge Kentucky senators to set aside or vote no on HB 1.
HB 1 would add barriers to our public benefit system, and those barriers couldn't come at a worse time. Even before COVID-19, our public benefit programs were too hard to access. Now, more than ever, we should make our safety net easier, not harder, to use.
We hope that our senators will consider:
Pregnant women and childbirth. Fifty-one percent of births in Kentucky are covered by Medicaid. Section 10 (12) of HB 1 would create a lifetime ban on Medicaid for SNAP fraud. Who will pay for prenatal care and childbirth without federal Medicaid dollars?
Long term care. Sixty-seven percent of nursing home residents in Kentucky are covered by Medicaid. Who will pay for long term care stays when lifetime bans take away Medicaid coverage, perhaps for a mistake many years in the past?
Due process. The Cabinet’s process for deciding SNAP fraud cases is administrative. Recipients accused of fraud are not entitled to the same protections as criminal defendants. But losing food and medical benefits could be worse than jail. Even prisoners are entitled to food and medical care.
Where will the most vulnerable Kentuckians get the help they need if they're unfairly cut off federal benefit programs for life?
Costly litigation. The Medicaid work requirements established by Section 4 of the bill have already been struck down after years of expensive litigation. In the House, some representatives argued that these "community engagement" requirements would be legal because the SNAP program (formerly known as food stamps) already has similar requirements. But Arkansas and Kentucky made that same argument in federal court and lost.
That’s not the only illegal aspect of the bill. Terminating people from Medicaid for violating SNAP rules is also illegal.
Who will pay for the next costly round of litigation?
That said, the legality of HB 1 isn’t the main issue. In January, these changes were the wrong changes at the wrong time. In March, during a pandemic, they’re disastrous changes in the midst of a disaster.
Instead of creating more hurdles to public benefits, the General Assembly should instead create a people-oriented budget that supports the safety net that so many Kentuckians need right now.