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Kentucky bill tightening public benefits rules clears Senate

Opponents including Sen. Morgan McGarvey warned that House Bill 7 would punish low-income Kentuckians.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Legislation to tighten rules for public assistance moved closer to final passage as Kentucky lawmakers rushed to finish work on priority bills Wednesday. 

House Bill 7, which would revamp Kentucky’s public benefits system, won 24-12 passage in the Senate. The vote broke mostly along partisan lines, with a few Republicans joining Democrats in opposing the bill.

The measure was sent back to the House for a potential final vote on the sweeping proposal after the Senate added an amendment to allow for fluctuating income data and emergency waivers during events such as natural disasters.

RELATED: GOP-backed plan criticized for tightening access to Medicaid, SNAP benefits

Supporters of the public benefits-related bill said the goal is to steer more people into self-sufficiency while preserving assistance for Kentuckians truly in need.

“The only way you can lose benefits is if you’re doing something illegal or (you're) able-bodied with no dependents at home,” said Sen. Ralph Alvarado.

The bill’s opponents warned it would punish low-income Kentuckians.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey pointed to extremely low rates of fraud detected in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. A state agency has said the bill's reporting and verification rules would dramatically drive up its administrative expenses.

“We are going to spend more money than we are going to save by taking food off of people’s plates,” said McGarvey.

By passing the bill before the “veto period” begins, the bill's supporters would retain their override power if Gov. Andy Beshear vetoes the measure. The legislature will return to the statehouse in mid-April to finish its work for the 60-day session.

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