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A Report Says Kentuckians Are Losing Access To Food Stamps. A Medicaid Preview?

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A new report says more than 10,000 Kentuckians have lost access to SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps, since May. The data come in the wake of a state decision reinstating time limits and work requirements on a county-by-county basis. 

During the recession and recovery, a three-month time limit on SNAP benefits for childless, non-disabled adults working less than 20 hours a week was waived in every Kentucky county. But the commonwealth started allowing those waivers to lapse in low unemployment areas in 2016 and this year, began moving toward reinstatement in all but eight counties.

Jason Dunn with Kentucky Voices for Health warns the result has been that almost one-in-five Kentuckians subject to the requirements have been disqualified. And the report, co-authored by Dustin Pugel with the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, notes that often these are residents in economically stressed regions of the state.

"There's not any real supports to participate in this work program," Dunn argues. "I think you can get maybe a $25 assistance with transportation, but other than that there's no real supports built into this, so you're really hurting people that are in a disadvantaged area that don't have the opportunity to participate in programs." 

Lost access to the benefits could also drive up healthcare costs, Dunn says.  In addition, the numbers might also serve as a test case for larger reforms that remain in limbo.

"These individuals are using the same reporting systems and career centers that Medicaid recipients are going to be going to, so we think that what happens in the SNAP program with their work pogram will be a good predictor of what might happen if the Medicaid waiver is ultimately approved and put in place," he adds. 

Supporters counter that work requirements get recipients more involved in their benefits and spur them to look for employment.

"There is dignity associated with earning the value of something you receive," Governor Matt Bevin has argued. Speaking about his administration's proposed Medicaid changes, the Republican said Kentuckians want "an opportunity not to be put into a dead-end entitlement trap, but rather be put on a path forward and upwards so they can do for themselves."

Seema Verma, who head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has been supportive of Kentucky's 1115 waiver and proposals like it. 

"There are a lot of different ideas, and a lot of ways to go about this," she said. "We want to give states as much flexibility as possible because that's where we'll be able to evaluate what actually works best."

Dunn says the research shows that such initiatives only show signs of success when coupled with robust support programs – which, he cautions, are missing in Kentucky. 

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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