Kentucky Legislators: Don’t Cripple State Government When We Need it Most

Emily Beauregard, Kentucky Voices for Health

I think it’s safe to say the COVID-19 pandemic has reached a crisis point. And as the late John McCain said, “The first role of government is to help people who are in crisis or need. That’s why we have government.” Kentucky’s elected policymakers need to show leadership and courage during this crisis to address the needs of our communities.

Over the past two weeks,  Congress has taken critical steps in response to the pandemic by passing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) and working on an even larger bipartisan stimulus package that will infuse trillions of dollars into our nation’s economy, increase coronavirus testing and treatment, expand access to needed benefits, and provide direct cash assistance to Kentuckians.  Meanwhile, Kentucky’s Senate proposed a budget that would weaken our ability to respond to the current crisis by cutting critical funding to local health departments, Medicaid, and the Community Mental Health system.  It also removes flexibility for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) to move funds as needed when unforeseen issues arise.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted weaknesses in Kentucky’s safety-net that have been ignored and underfunded for far too long. Our public health workforce has been shrinking for more than a decade while hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians are living paycheck to paycheck without job security, health insurance, paid sick leave, or an affordable home

Cuts like these, combined with unsustainable pension contributions for other community agencies – including Community Mental Health Centers and Domestic Violence Shelters – will stretch vital services dangerously thin during this crisis and make the fallout of an already deadly virus infinitely worse. 

This pandemic is a wake up call that reminds us we all benefit when our friends, families, neighbors, and coworkers are healthy. Every Kentuckian deserves access to affordable health care and workplace policies that don’t force us to choose between paying the bills and spreading a communicable disease. Unfortunately, we still have 223,400 Kentuckians living without health insurance and no state or federal laws that require employers to provide paid leave, putting us all at greater risk.

A county-by-county look at Kentucky’s uninsured.

As Kentuckians face layoffs or reduced hours, enrollment in Medicaid, SNAP, and unemployment benefits will increase. That’s the way the safety-net is designed to respond during economic downturns. In addition to funding the necessary infrastructure for COVID-19 testing and treatment, legislators must also act to make public assistance as accessible as possible for Kentuckians in need. Now is the time to fully fund our safety-net, allow CHFS to maintain budget flexibility, and remove barriers for people enrolling in and using public benefits.

As the General Assembly reconvenes, we urge them to take swift action to pass a budget that will promote containment of COVID-19 and help Kentucky families cope with the pandemic’s health and financial impact, without crippling the agency primarily responsible for responding to this crisis. 

The budget should include:

  • Relief to workers losing their jobs by removing barriers to unemployment insurance
  • Full funding for Medicaid without barriers
  • Full funding for health departments to fight COVID-19
  • Continued pension freeze for health departments and community agencies

CALL YOUR SENATOR AND REPRESENTATIVE TODAY: 1-800-372-7181. Ask them to pass a budget that fully funds the COVID-19 response and end the session. We cannot afford to risk spreading the pandemic by continuing to meet in Frankfort or by continuing to pass bills that erect harmful barriers to public assistance for our fellow Kentuckians. 

In addition to washing your hands and practicing social distancing, taking action to pass a responsible budget will ensure we have the resources and tools we need to get us through this pandemic.

About Kentucky Voices for Health

KVH has been a respected voice of consumer advocates and a catalyst in health policy decision-making since 2007. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and nonpartisan coalition, we bring together individuals, advocates, community organizations, state agencies, and policymakers to address the underlying causes of poor health by connecting Kentuckians with opportunities to make change through policy advocacy.