LOUISVILLE -- Many Kentuckians are simply a lost job, new baby, accident or illness away from qualifying for Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), and Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program (K-TAP) -- "safety net" programs that exist to catch us when we fall and sustain us while we get back on our feet. Kentuckians who are underpaid, working multiple part-time jobs, struggling with a disability or other barriers to economic security are able to meet basic needs with the support from these programs. And Kentucky's children who benefit from the safety net are better off later in life because of them.

In an open letter signed by more than 60 organizations last December, many of us laid out our shared principles for what a strong and effective safety net should look like, calling on our public leaders to ensure access to vital assistance programs without barriers, honor the inherent dignity of people who participate, and prioritize equitable outcomes for Kentuckians of color, women and those living in distressed local economies.

Recently, House Leadership filed HB 1, a proposal that fundamentally changes public assistance programs in ways that would take away support from Kentuckians when we need it most. We, the undersigned, urge legislators to recognize the importance of health, food, cash, child care and other forms of assistance in the lives of constituents throughout the commonwealth, reject measures that will harm Kentuckians and our communities by taking assistance away, and choose reforms that make us stronger.

The theory that punitive measures are needed to get people off public assistance and into work is not backed by data. Federal and state experiments with erecting barriers to participation haven't improved already high rates of employment or reduced already low rates of fraud, but have deepened poverty. Such measures reinforce stigmatizing stereotypes and fail to reflect reality for Kentuckians who are doing their best to make ends meet. Decades of data show that by creating numerous barriers to health, food, and other forms of assistance, HB 1 will leave people worse off. For some of us, it would create an absolute lifetime ban on all forms of support.

There are effective, evidence-based ways to assist people who are working to improve their lives ­-- measures that aren't punitive but empowering. These include:

• Building economic stability by allowing people to maintain eligibility as income gradually grows.

• Expanding voluntary training and work supports.

• Making childcare more accessible and affordable.

• Providing more healthy and local produce options for SNAP participants.

• Supporting healthy re-entry after incarceration for Kentuckians struggling with substance-use disorder by making sure they can quickly get help with food and medical assistance.

• Lowering health care premiums for all marketplace enrollees to make it easier for those who earn too much for Medicaid to still afford coverage.

These reforms invest in Kentuckians, rather than making it harder for people to be healthy and productive. We, the undersigned, urge our legislators to listen to the voices of Kentuckians who are better off because of food, health, child care and other forms of assistance, consider the unequivocal evidence backing a supportive rather than punitive approach to our safety net, and work with stakeholders to design a bill that improves Kentuckians' well-being -- the foundation of our state's shared prosperity.

Signed:

Aaron Jonan Memorial Clinic; ACLU of Kentucky; Adoption Assistance; Advocacy Action Network; All Quakers in Kentucky (Religious Society of Friends); Alliance for Pediatric Behavioral and Mental Health of Kentucky; American Cancer Society - Cancer Action Network; Americana World Community Center; Asthma and Allergy Center; Big Brothers Sisters of Kentuckiana; Black Lives Matter Louisville; Bridgehaven, Inc.; Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro; Catholic Conference of Kentucky; Change Today, Change Tomorrow; Coalition for the Homeless; Commonwealth Therapy Group; Community Farm Alliance; Dare to Care Food Bank, Inc.; Deer Park Family Doctors; East End Huddle; Fairness Campaign; Fairview Community Health Center; Family Circle, Inc.; Family Health Centers, Inc.; Feeding Kentucky; Forward Kentucky; Four Rivers Indivisible; Freestore Foodbank; Glean Kentucky; God's Pantry Food Bank; Healthy Reentry Coalition; Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky; HR Transylvania Presbytery; Jefferson County Teachers' Association; Kentucky Association of Regional Programs; Kentuckians For the Commonwealth; Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression; Kentucky Association for Psychology in the Schools; Kentucky Association for School Social Work; Kentucky Center for Economic Policy; Kentucky Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Kentucky Council of Churches; Kentucky Education Association;  Kentucky Equal Justice Center; Kentucky Nurses Action Coalition; Kentucky Nurses Association; Kentucky Primary Care Association; Kentucky Psychiatric Medical Association; Kentucky Psychological Association; Kentucky Society for Clinical Social Work; Kentucky State AFL-CIO; Kentucky Voices for Health; Lexington Survivors of Suicide; Maines Electric; Matthew 25 AIDS Services; McNary Group; Mental Health America of Kentucky; Mental Health America of Northern Kentucky and Southwest Ohio Inc.; Monticello Medical Associates; Mountain Comprehensive Care Center; National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Kentucky; National Alliance on Mental Illness - Lexington; National Alliance on Mental Illness - Louisville; National Association of Social Workers - Kentucky Chapter; National Multiple Sclerosis Society; Nelson County Democratic Woman's Club; New Roots, Inc.; Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission; Northern Kentucky Justice and Peace Committee; Pathways, Inc.; Pediatric Associates of Hazard; Pediatric Associates of Pikeville; Pediatric Mental Health & Behavioral Health Alliance; Pennyroyal Center; People Advocating Recovery; Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kentucky; Play Cousins Collective; Quaker Committee on Kentucky Legislation; Red River Health Care; Reparations Roundtable; RiverValley Behavioral Health; Salyersville Medical Center; Shawnee Christian Healthcare Center; The Arc of Kentucky; The Bounce Coalition; The Kentucky Council of Churches; The Ridge Behavioral Health Hospital; The Women's Network; Together Frankfort; Union Church; United Food and Commercial Workers Local 227; Wellspring, Inc.; Zero to Three

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