Beshear says bill to end state of emergency would cut food benefits, and Covid-19 mitigation funds are needed in budget

Senate President Robert Stivers signs resolution, sending it to the governor, as Douglas watches. (Photo: Douglas’s Twitter)

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Much of what could have been Gov. Andy Beshear’s last Covid-19 briefing centered on taxpayer money related to the pandemic.
Beshear said over half a million Kentuckians will lose extra food stamp benefits if the legislature ends the pandemic state of emergency early, and he urged legislators to put money for Covid-19 mitigation in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The legislature sent Beshear a joint resolution March 10 to end the state of emergency as soon as it becomes law, rather than April 15, as it directed in January.
The Democratic governor indicated that he will veto it, saying “You’ll likely see some action on that a little bit later this week,” but it only takes a majority of each legislative chamber to override a governor’s veto, and Republicans have huge majorities in the House and Senate.

“Senate Joint Resolution 150 is politics at its worst,” Beshear said. “It will take food off the tables of more than a half a million Kentuckians, most of them struggling seniors and struggling children.”

The sponsor of SJR 150 is newly elected Sen. Donald Douglas of Nicholasville, who is in a Republican primary race with Andrew Cooperrider of Lexington, a fervent opponent of anti-pandemic measures who has said the bill is designed to boost the candidacy of Douglas, a more mainstream candidate.

Beshear’s concern is that by ending the state of emergency, Kentucky will lose extra money the federal government is providing for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, once known as food stamps. He said, “Cutting $50 million worth of food to our people is wrong, and for what? There are no restrictions, no Covid restrictions in Kentucky. None. And there haven’t been for six months.”
Deborah Yetter reports for the Louisville Courier Journal, “The average benefit of $243 a month will drop by about $100 for the 544,000 low-income Kentuckians who qualify” for SNAP.
“During the pandemic, the federal government has allowed people to get the maximum amount of monthly benefits rather than have them based on individual income,” Yetter explains. “Extra SNAP benefits are expected to continue to be available until the federal emergency ends, probably around September. But without a designated state public-health emergency, Kentucky will not be eligible for them after April.”
The legislative resolution says it is not the General Assembly’s intent “to impair or delay the ability of the Commonwealth to receive any federal stimulus or pandemic-related funds or services.”
Senate President Robert Stivers reiterated that in a statement Monday, and said there is another way to keep the added food benefits: an emergency regulation from the administration.
“We note that a Statement of Emergency is provided through the emergency administrative regulation process,” Stivers said. “If the governor needs something from the legislature, he still has time to come to us and we have time to respond.”
Asked to respond, Beshear said the administration has made clear to the legislators that ending his executive order for the pandemic state of emergency would end the extended SNAP benefits.

“It’s certainly like someone saying they wouldn’t have robbed the bank if the security guard had stopped them,” he said. “That’s pretty silly. . . . There is no way to our knowledge, and we’ve had all our lawyers look at it, that we can get that additional $50 million of food assistance to struggling seniors and struggling kids without the executive order I sign being extended.”

When SJR 150 was debated on the House floor, several Republicans said it would not affect SNAP benefits. “From my research, this bill will not impact the SNAP program whatsoever,” said Rep. Norma Kirk-McCormick of Inez. “This bill is to set the people free.”

Rep. Kim Moser of Taylor Mill, chair of the House Health and Family Services Committee, said “A state of emergency does not change the eligibility for SNAP benefits. There is no reason to be concerned that the eligibility standards will be changing there.”

Yetter reports, “SJR 150 won a hurried passage in the House Thursday on a vote of 75-20 just a few hours after it cleared the House State Government Committee, despite questions of some lawmakers. . . . At the committee meeting, Chairman Jerry Miller, R-Louisville, told members with questions that they still had time to get answers.”

“I’m sure this won’t be on the floor today,” Miller said. He was wrong.

The resolution also would require Beshear to get the legislature’s approval before declaring another Covid-19 state of emergency “based upon the same or substantially similar facts and circumstances.”
Covid-19 mitigation money: Beshear objected to the Senate version of the state budget having “zero dollars” for mitigation of Covid-19, even though he asked that those efforts get upwards of $170 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, the latest federal relief bill.
Beshear said he did not know if the House budget allocated any ARPA money toward the efforts. but a cursory search of the House budget shows that it only includes money to support Covid-19 testing of residents and staff at facilities that house people with mental illness or intellectual disabilities.
Without money for Covid-19 mitigation, Beshear said, several programs will end on June 30: the test-to-stay program in public schools; regional community antibody administration centers; community-based testing through Gravity Diagnostics and the University of Kentucky. He also said it would make uncertain the ability to support a 90-day emergency supply of personal protective equipment and necessary warehouse space.
“Remember, we’re learning to live with it,” he said of the coronavirus. “It’s not disappearing. . . . This is about us being able to support things like testing, PPE and actual treatment if you get it given that the pandemic in some form is still going to be around.”
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