Poor Kentuckians will find it harder to erase their criminal convictions after the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled that expungement fees cannot be waived for those who can't afford them.

Hoping to make it easier for offenders to find jobs and restore their rights to vote and own guns, the legislature in 2016 allowed most convicted felons to seek expungements.

And earlier this year, lawmakers reduced the fees from $500 to $300.

But in a 3-0 ruling Oct. 11, the appeals court said those fees are mandatory, even for those entitled to public defenders because they can't afford a lawyer. The Court of Appeals said that even though state law generally allows "a poor person to file or defend any action without paying costs," that is trumped by a more specific statute mandating fees for expungements.

Damon Preston, who runs the state Department of Public Advocacy, said it's a Catch-22 for poor people with a criminal record: They need to expunge their crimes so employers will consider them for a job, but they can't afford an expungement because they can't find solid employment.

Data from the Administrative Office of the Courts shows that from July 2016 through September of this year, 2,076 felony expungements were granted statewide.