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Proposed Changes Could Reduce KY Families' Access to Food

As of 2018, 239,000 Kentucky children relied on food-assistance benefits, according to federal data. (Adobe Stock)
As of 2018, 239,000 Kentucky children relied on food-assistance benefits, according to federal data. (Adobe Stock)
February 24, 2020

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Last week, Kentucky House lawmakers advanced legislation that would reform how the state provides cash and food assistance and certain Medicaid benefits to low-income Kentuckians.

The bill, which now heads to the Senate for consideration, would require beneficiaries to use one single electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, card for all programs, and would include penalties for selling or otherwise misusing the card, among other reforms. Kristen Arant, peer support coordination liaison with Mental Health America in Northern Kentucky, said the legislation could cut off families who need cash to pay for rent, transportation or a babysitter.

"What we know about families is that any time they are punished and cut off from access to vital resources, they stay in perpetual poverty," Arant said.

The bill's primary co-sponsors, Republican Reps. David Meade of Stanford and David Osborne of Prospect, have said the measure is needed to prevent fraudulent use of public-assistance dollars.

Policy analyst with Kentucky Voices for Health Jason Dunn said while there might be a tiny portion of residents who commit benefits fraud, most people relying on public assistance are simply trying to stay afloat and care for their families.

"Families are using this to feed their children, to support them the best that they can," Dunn said. "And I think it's important to note that the workforce participation rate among the Medicaid population is actually higher, it's in the 60% range, than the work participation rate for the entire state as a whole. "

He also pointed out the data on benefits fraud in the Commonwealth remains murky.

"We don't really know the source of their data that shows a higher level of fraud, as understood by the state or by the USDA, and they won't reveal the source of that data, unfortunately," he said. "So it's hard to refute that."

House Bill 1 includes several reforms recommended last year by the state's Public Assistance Reform Task Force.

Disclosure: Kentucky Voices for Health contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY