Throughout my time in the Kentucky House, I have made this district my top legislative priority. When I go to work, I go to work for our families and our future. Throughout my time in Frankfort, I have supported policies aimed at growing our economy, protecting life, defending our most vulnerable, and preserving Kentucky values. Last week the House passed legislation that I believe will do just that by making changes to how our public assistance programs serve our most vulnerable friends and neighbors.
Kentucky has one of the lowest workforce participation rates in our nation, which basically means too many Kentuckians who could be working are not. The number of people on our Medicaid program adds up to more than twice the number of children we have in our classrooms. Overall, almost 30% of our 4.5 million people is on some type of Medicaid.
HB 1 is the first step towards turning “benefit cliffs” into true “safety nets” in order to help Kentuckians find a path to consistent employment. What is a benefit cliff? It is the term used to describe what happens when public benefits end when household earnings increase. The abrupt loss of benefits can actually set families back because even though household earnings increased, they usually have not increased enough.
Many of HB 1’s provisions came directly from recommendations made by the Task Force on Public Assistance Reform, which met throughout the summer and fall of 2019. This measure is based on the idea that if public assistance programs are going to work, there must be accountability — for both the people they serve and the people who fund them. These programs were created to provide temporary assistance to help those in need get back on their feet and reach economic stability. However, over time we have spent billions and still seen so many families fail. It is time for a fundamental change in how we approach public assistance. We must hold these programs accountable to the taxpayers who pay for them, and the people they serve.
The provisions of HB 1 do not apply to those who qualify under the traditional Medicaid program, but rather to the recipients who have been added as part of the expansion. The bill also preserves exemptions for pregnant mothers, the elderly, and others who are unable to work.
It does, however, tackle drug abuse as a reason for unemployment by emphasizing drug treatment and available funding to pay for it. HB 1 requires Medicaid beneficiaries convicted of a drug-related charge to begin substance abuse treatment within 90 days of release from incarceration. This treatment could be paid for by money available through a substance use disorder waiver.
HB 1 also makes decreasing fraud and misuse a priority. A part of the bill places all public assistance payments that an individual receives on one Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. This should not only make it easier for a recipient to keep track of the card, but also prevent those who want to take advantage of their benefits from selling their card or trading it for something. The bill also allows the state to eliminate eligibility for all public assistance programs for individuals found to be trafficking in EBT cards. It restricts the use of cash withdrawn from an EBT card to only the purchase of goods and services necessary for the welfare of the family. The HCS codifies federal prohibitions on the use of cash benefits to purchase alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, or vaping products; goods or services at a casino or adult entertainment establishment; and services from tattoo or body piercing facilities.
I want to stress that custodial parents who lose benefits because of fraud or misuse can reassign child benefits to another person — we do not want to add to the suffering a child faces.
If this bill clears the Senate to become law, Kentucky will be among the first states to enroll in the National Accuracy Clearinghouse (NAC), a program aimed at identifying people who are receiving public assistance payments in more than one state. This is common sense, but I am amazed at how much money has been saved in the pilot version of NAC. Mississippi alone identified and prevented a monthly average of more than 300 dual participants with a total savings of more than $161,000 monthly and $1.9 million annually.
I mentioned earlier that the goal for this bill is to eliminate the barriers that keep people from getting and keeping a job. Health insurance is a huge expense for all of us, but many people remain on Medicaid — and unemployed — only to keep their insurance. With HB 1, we are directing the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to explore funding and implementation options for creating a “bridge” insurance plan to provide health insurance coverage to those entering the work force through expanded time-limited eligibility for Medicaid.
Also, because we know that working parents need quality, reliable child care, HB 1 requires the Cabinet to report to the Public Assistance Oversight Committee regarding possible changes to the Child Care Assistance Program aimed at increasing eligibility and streamlining copayments.
If you have any questions or comments about this session, I can be reached during the week from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. local time through the toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.