Many Kentuckians are simply a lost job, new baby, accident or illness away from qualifying for Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), and Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program (K-TAP) – “safety net” programs that exist to catch us when we fall and sustain us while we get back on our feet. Kentuckians who are underpaid, working multiple part-time jobs, struggling with a disability or other barriers to economic security are able to meet basic needs with the support from these programs. And Kentucky’s children who benefit from the safety net are better off later in life because of them.
In an open letter signed by more than 60 organizations last December, many of us laid out our shared principles for what a strong and effective safety net should look like, calling on our public leaders to ensure access to vital assistance programs without barriers, honor the inherent dignity of people who participate, and prioritize equitable outcomes for Kentuckians of color, women and those living in distressed local economies.
Recently, House Leadership filed HB 1, a proposal that fundamentally changes public assistance programs in ways that would take away support from Kentuckians when we need it most. We, the undersigned, urge legislators to recognize the importance of health, food, cash, child care and other forms of assistance in the lives of constituents throughout the commonwealth, reject measures that will harm Kentuckians and our communities by taking assistance away, and choose reforms that make us stronger.
The theory that punitive measures are needed to get people off public assistance and into work is not backed by data. Federal and state experiments with erecting barriers to participation haven’t improved already high rates of employment or reduced already low rates of fraud, but have deepened poverty. Such measures reinforce stigmatizing stereotypes and fail to reflect reality for Kentuckians who are doing their best to make ends meet. Decades of data show that by creating numerous barriers to health, food, and other forms of assistance, HB 1 will leave people worse off. For some of us, it would create an absolute lifetime ban on all forms of support.
There are effective, evidence-based ways to assist people who are working to improve their lives – measures that aren’t punitive but empowering. These include:
- Building economic stability by allowing people to maintain eligibility as income gradually grows.
- Expanding voluntary training and work supports.
- Making childcare more accessible and affordable.
- Providing more healthy and local produce options for SNAP participants.
- Supporting healthy re-entry after incarceration for Kentuckians struggling with substance-use disorder by making sure they can quickly get help with food and medical assistance.
- Lowering health care premiums for all marketplace enrollees to make it easier for those who earn too much for Medicaid to still afford coverage.
These reforms invest in Kentuckians, rather than making it harder for people to be healthy and productive. We, the undersigned, urge our legislators to listen to the voices of Kentuckians who are better off because of food, health, child care and other forms of assistance, consider the unequivocal evidence backing a supportive rather than punitive approach to our safety net, and work with stakeholders to design a bill that improves Kentuckians’ well-being – the foundation of our state’s shared prosperity.
Aaron Jonan Memorial Clinic
ACLU of Kentucky
Advocacy Action Network
All Quakers in Kentucky (Religious Society of Friends)
Alliance for Pediatric Behavioral and Mental Health of Kentucky
American Cancer Society – Cancer Action Network
Americana World Community Center
Asthma and Allergy Center
Big Brothers Sisters of Kentuckiana
Black Lives Matter Louisville
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro
Catholic Conference of Kentucky
Change Today, Change Tomorrow
Coalition for the Homeless
Commonwealth Therapy Group
Community Farm Alliance
Dare to Care Food Bank, Inc.
Deer Park Family Doctors
East End Huddle
Fairview Community Health Center
Family Circle, Inc.
Family Health Centers, Inc.
Four Rivers Indivisible
God’s Pantry Food Bank
Healthy Reentry Coalition
Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky
HR Transylvania Presbytery
Jefferson County Teachers’ Association
Kentucky Association of Regional Programs
Kentuckians For the Commonwealth
Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression
Kentucky Association for Psychology in the Schools
Kentucky Association for School Social Work
Kentucky Center for Economic Policy
Kentucky Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
Kentucky Council of Churches
Kentucky Education Association
Kentucky Equal Justice Center
Kentucky Nurses Action Coalition
Kentucky Nurses Association
Kentucky Primary Care Association
Kentucky Psychiatric Medical Association
Kentucky Psychological Association
Kentucky Society for Clinical Social Work
Kentucky State AFL-CIO
Kentucky Voices for Health
Lexington Survivors of Suicide
Matthew 25 AIDS Services
Mental Health America of Kentucky
Mental Health America of Northern Kentucky and Southwest Ohio Inc.
Monticello Medical Associates
Mountain Comprehensive Care Center
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Kentucky
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Lexington
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Louisville
National Association of Social Workers – Kentucky Chapter
National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Nelson County Democratic Woman’s Club
New Roots, Inc.
Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission
Northern Kentucky Justice and Peace Committee
Pediatric Associates of Hazard
Pediatric Associates of Pikeville
Pediatric Mental Health & Behavioral Health Alliance
People Advocating Recovery
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kentucky
Play Cousins Collective
Quaker Committee on Kentucky Legislation
Red River Health Care
RiverValley Behavioral Health
Salyersville Medical Center
Shawnee Christian Healthcare Center
The Arc of Kentucky
The Bounce Coalition
The Kentucky Council of Churches
The Ridge Behavioral Health Hospital
The Women’s Network
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 227
Zero to Three
This letter was published in the Richmond Register on February 19, 2020.