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Ky. Senate committee rejects bill that would jeopardize some people’s SNAP benefits

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Federal SNAP benefits help low-income families put food on the table.

The Kentucky Legislature may make it harder for people to qualify for federal benefits that help them afford groceries. But the proposal failed a key vote Thursday.

A controversial bill that would tighten eligibility requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has an unclear future.

House Bill 367 got the Kentucky House of Representatives’ approval last month but still needs the Senate’s OK.

However, it didn’t get enough votes Thursday from lawmakers on the Senate’s economic development committee. That doesn’t happen often in the Legislature.

“I don't question the intention of this bill, but I'm just concerned about the consequences,” said Republican state Sen. Phillip Wheeler of Pikeville, who voted against HB 367. “I'm just worried about the unintended consequences for those Kentuckians that are just, you know, struggling to get by.”

Conservatives on the committee were split on the measure.

Without the committee’s sign-off, the bill can’t advance to a vote by the full Senate. But the committee chair, Republican state Sen. Max Wise of Campbellsville, said HB 367 may come back for another vote when the committee meets again Friday.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Wade Williams of Earlington, introduced a new iteration of the proposal Thursday that he said is much narrower than the version the Kentucky House passed. However, HB 367 still failed the Senate committee vote.

Williams said he stripped out a major piece of the bill that would have reinstated a financial asset limit and made income requirements more restrictive for SNAP applicants.

The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, a progressive research group, estimated close to 65,000 Kentuckians — including over 21,000 children — would lose their SNAP benefits if that part of the proposal became law.

Now, Williams said, HB 367 would only change the state government’s process for waiving work requirements for SNAP recipients in communities with high unemployment rates.

Williams said SNAP work requirements generally apply to able-bodied adults without dependents who are between age 18 and 52. Fulfilling them doesn’t necessarily require a person to land a job, which can be difficult.

“You can volunteer, you can train, you can go to school to meet those requirements,” he said Thursday. “However, states can waive this requirement, and Kentucky has been doing that in a pretty broad swath across our state.”

A Kentucky cabinet agency can unilaterally seek those waivers now, but HB 367 would give the state Legislature some power over such decisions.

The Center for Economic Policy previously estimated 15,800 Kentuckians might lose their benefits if the Legislature changes the process of waiving work requirements.

Morgan is LPM's health & environment reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.
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