FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - A comprehensive welfare reform bill passed the Kentucky House on Friday, but not before two and a half hours of debate.
The measure is considered the House Majority’s top legislative priority, as it was designated House Bill 1, and the main sponsors are House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, and Speaker Pro Tem David Meade, R-Stanford.
Key provisions include changes to cash assistance programs and eligibility for expanded Medicaid.
Each cash assistance beneficiary would be placed on a single electronic benefit transfer card, with exceptions made for foster care, kinship care and similar program payments.
Expanded Medicaid beneficiaries who have been part of the state’s expanded Medicaid population for at least one year, could be required to work at least 80 hours a month in order to continue to qualify for Medicaid benefits.
The work requirement for expanded Medicaid, part of a “community engagement program” that would implemented by the state under HB 1, would kick in should the percentage of the state general fund Medicaid budget needed to provide the state match for Kentucky’s expanded Medicaid population reach 50 percent.
Those with earnings between 138-200 percent of the federal poverty level who no longer qualify for Medicaid because of increased income, but who otherwise qualify for Medicaid, could participate in a state health insurance option under HB 1. The program would provide the optional insurance to a qualified individual for 12 months or possibly longer.
Meade, who presented the bill on the House floor, told his colleagues, “We are trying to find a good balance between compassion to help those folks in those situations where they need care and help from these public assistance programs, but also a balance with accountability.”
Rep. Joe Graviss, D-Versailles, was one of those who opposed the measure. Among his complaints, the speed with which the bill was sped into consideration, as well as a provision where the Attorney General could sue the Cabinet for Health and Family Resources for not implementing changes quickly enough.
“We’re going to have taxpayer money spent on both sides of a lawsuit,” he said. “Because we are in such a daggone big hurry to get this thing through without being able to discuss the fiscal issues.”
Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, said he supported the bill because it sets a good policy statement, “That we believe it is unwise for the poorest of our society to use taxpayer dollars to go to a casino.” He said that also held true by banning the use of EBT funds for such things as alcohol, tobacco, tattoos and body piercings, and spending the funds at strip clubs.”
Another opponent was Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green. “There are many laudable things about this bill, but those things are outweighed by the damage done to the working poor in a very poor state,” she stated. “The courts are going to throw a lot of this out, giving us the opportunity to do better next time.”
The measure passed 58-32 and now heads to the Senate.