Statement by Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director, Kentucky Youth Advocates
LOUISVILLE, KY – The Kentucky House has a track record that clearly values family stability and protecting children from maltreatment. Yet, on the same day as passing critical legislation that will positively impact children across the child welfare continuum, House members ensured passage of House Bill 7 that threatens efforts to improve child safety and well-being.
As we’ve previously shared, there is emerging evidence about the critical role of economic and concrete supports in preventing child maltreatment, including lowering chances of a substantiated abuse or neglect report for children who participate in SNAP or WIC and a decrease in child maltreatment investigations when children have continuous Medicaid or CHIP coverage. While we are glad to see that vulnerable groups, such as kids, foster youth, and kinship and fictive kin caregivers, are especially protected from the changes proposed in HB 7, the possibility remains for unintended consequences of those good intentions to improve the state’s public benefits system.
We thank House Speaker David Osborne and Speaker Pro Tem David Meade for continuing to listen to feedback from stakeholders and considering key recommendations as the legislation advances, including:
- Clarifying language to allow the Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ (CHFS) discretion to determine punishments for violations of fraud.
- Exempting payments made to foster, kinship, and fictive kin caregivers, as well as exempting WIC and third-party payments, such as CCAP, from requirements that public assistance programs be distributed on the same EBT card.
- Removing language around Categorical Eligibility for public benefits so children in households enrolled in SNAP can continue to automatically be eligible for free school meals.
- Requiring CHFS to develop an online Employment and Training program so families have more options to fulfill work and community engagement requirements.
- Establishing a Benefit Cliff Task Force to study bridge insurance program for low-income families and strengthen access to the Child Care Assistance Program.
As this legislation heads to the Senate, we ask for the following considerations:
- Explicitly exempt former foster youth from provisions within the legislation to ensure there are not additional barriers for this vulnerable group.
- Allow noncustodial parents who are behind on child support the ability to prove their involvement in their child’s life before disqualifying them from public benefits.
- Allow Presumptive Eligibility determinations to be made by medical practitioners and various clinical sites to ensure the determination for pregnant women and children isn’t limited to only hospitals.
- Strengthen the appeals process so families have the opportunity for due process before being charged with fraud.
In addition to these recommendations, we have several questions related to the bill, including but not limited to: How are former foster youth impacted by this bill? What counts as community engagement? How will mandated community engagement be monitored? Are pregnant women and former foster youth excluded from community engagement programs? What is the fiscal note for HB 7? Is ninety days enough time for the Cabinet to integrate SNAP, Medicaid, and other public assistance programs into the same EBT card?
Safety net programs play a critical role in making sure families struggling to make ends meet can have food to eat, cover basic family needs, and access critical supports and services needed to be healthy. Kentucky will be strongest when all children have their best chance to thrive as we continue to build an equitable pandemic recovery. We call on Senate leadership to consider these recommendations and questions as HB 7 progresses through the legislative process.
Stay up-to-date on Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children priorities and bills that are good for kids on our Kentucky General Assembly Bill Tracker.
About Kentucky Youth Advocates
Kentucky Youth Advocates believes all children deserve to be safe, healthy, and secure. As THE independent voice for Kentucky’s children, we work to ensure policymakers create investments and policies that are good for children. Learn more at www.kyyouth.org.