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Public Assistance and Jobless Benefits

Renee Shaw and guests discuss legislation concerning public assistance and jobless benefits. Guests: Dustin Pugel, senior policy analyst at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy; Bryan Sunderland, state government affairs director for the Foundation for Government Accountability; Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO; and Anne-Tyler Morgan, attorney and McBrayer PLLC member.
Season 29 Episode 12 Length 56:33 Premiere: 03/28/22

About

Kentucky Tonight

KET’s Kentucky Tonight, hosted by Renee Shaw, brings together an expert panel for in-depth analysis of major issues facing the Commonwealth.

This weekly program features comprehensive discussions with lawmakers, stakeholders and policy leaders that are moderated by award-winning journalist Renee Shaw.

For nearly three decades, Kentucky Tonight has been a source for complete and balanced coverage of the most urgent and important public affairs developments in the state of Kentucky.

Often aired live, viewers are encouraged to participate by submitting questions in real-time via email, Twitter or KET’s online form. Viewers with questions and comments may send an email to kytonight@ket.org or use the contact form. All messages should include first and last name and town or county. The phone number for viewer calls during the program is 800-494-7605.

After the broadcast, Kentucky Tonight programs are available on KET.org and via podcast (iTunes or Android). Files are normally accessible within 24 hours after the television broadcast.

Kentucky Tonight was awarded a 1997 regional Emmy by the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The series was also honored with a 1995 regional Emmy nomination.

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Renee Shaw is the Director of Public Affairs and Moderator at KET, currently serving as host of KET’s weeknight public affairs program Kentucky Edition, the signature public policy discussion series Kentucky Tonight, the weekly interview series Connections, Election coverage and KET Forums.

Since 2001, Renee has been the producing force behind KET’s legislative coverage that has been recognized by the Kentucky Associated Press and the National Educational Telecommunications Association. Under her leadership, KET has expanded its portfolio of public affairs content to include a daily news and information program, Kentucky Supreme Court coverage, townhall-style forums, and multi-platform program initiatives around issues such as opioid addiction and youth mental health.  

Renee has also earned top awards from the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS), with three regional Emmy awards. In 2023, she was inducted into the Silver Circle of the NATAS, one of the industry’s highest honors recognizing television professionals with distinguished service in broadcast journalism for 25 years or more.  

Already an inductee into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame (2017), Renee expands her hall of fame status with induction into Western Kentucky University’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni in November of 2023.  

In February of 2023, Renee graced the front cover of Kentucky Living magazine with a centerfold story on her 25 years of service at KET and even longer commitment to public media journalism. 

In addition to honors from various educational, civic, and community organizations, Renee has earned top honors from the Associated Press and has twice been recognized by Mental Health America for her years-long dedication to examining issues of mental health and opioid addiction.  

In 2022, she was honored with Women Leading Kentucky’s Governor Martha Layne Collins Leadership Award recognizing her trailblazing path and inspiring dedication to elevating important issues across Kentucky.   

In 2018, she co-produced and moderated a 6-part series on youth mental health that was awarded first place in educational content by NETA, the National Educational Telecommunications Association. 

She has been honored by the AKA Beta Gamma Omega Chapter with a Coretta Scott King Spirit of Ivy Award; earned the state media award from the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2019; named a Charles W. Anderson Laureate by the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet in 2019 honoring her significant contributions in addressing socio-economic issues; and was recognized as a “Kentucky Trailblazer” by the University of Kentucky Martin School of Public Policy and Administration during the Wendell H. Ford Lecture Series in 2019. That same year, Shaw was named by The Kentucky Gazette’s inaugural recognition of the 50 most notable women in Kentucky politics and government.  

Renee was bestowed the 2021 Berea College Service Award and was named “Unapologetic Woman of the Year” in 2021 by the Community Action Council.   

In 2015, she received the Green Dot Award for her coverage of domestic violence, sexual assault & human trafficking. In 2014, Renee was awarded the Anthony Lewis Media Award from the KY Department of Public Advocacy for her work on criminal justice reform. Two Kentucky governors, Republican Ernie Fletcher and Democrat Andy Beshear, have commissioned Renee as a Kentucky Colonel for noteworthy accomplishments and service to community, state, and nation.  

A former adjunct media writing professor at Georgetown College, Renee traveled to Cambodia in 2003 to help train emerging journalists on reporting on critical health issues as part of an exchange program at Western Kentucky University. And, she has enterprised stories for national media outlets, the PBS NewsHour and Public News Service.  

Shaw is a 2007 graduate of Leadership Kentucky, a board member of CASA of Lexington, and a longtime member of the Frankfort/Lexington Chapter of The Links Incorporated, an international, not-for-profit organization of women of color committed to volunteer service. She has served on the boards of the Kentucky Historical Society, Lexington Minority Business Expo, and the Board of Governors for the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. 

Host Renee Shaw smiling in a green dress with a KET set behind her.

Guest Debate Merits of State Legislation That Reduces Unemployment, Medicaid, and Food Stamp Benefits

As part of the busy 2022 General Assembly session, lawmakers passed overhauls to programs designed to help Kentuckians during times of hardship: House Bill 4 makes changes to unemployment benefits while House Bill 7 updates access to public assistance programs like Medicaid and food stamps.

HB 4 will become law after legislators overrode a veto from Gov. Andy Beshear, who said the measure goes against common sense and Kentucky values. He contends it will harm workers, families, and rural communities, while not improving the state’s lagging workforce participation rate.

The legislation reduces jobless benefits from the current 26-week maximum to between 12 to 24 weeks, depending on unemployment trends at the time.

“House Bill 4 is designed to help get people back into the workforce and it will increase the job participation rate,” says Bryan Sunderland, state government affairs director for the Foundation for Government Accountability. “When times are good like they are now, with 167,000 open jobs in Kentucky and a really low unemployment rate, you still get three months to help find a job, and if the economy turns sour, you get more weeks of benefits.”

That change, though, would decrease benefits from an average of $9,400 for 26 weeks down to about $4,400 for 12 weeks, according to Kentucky AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan. He says that’s money unemployed workers need to pay their household bills and feed their families.

“I just think this is a very terrible way to treat the workers of Kentucky who get laid off due to no fault of their own and who need a helping hand to get to their next job,” says Londrigan.

Opponents also criticize how tying benefits to a statewide index of unemployment will hurt already economically disadvantaged regions of the state. They contend the overall unemployment rate for Kentucky could be lower than local rates in struggling communities, yet people in those places would still get fewer weeks of benefits. Critics say that will lead to a further depopulation of those areas as people leave to find work elsewhere.

Kentuckians would also be at risk of losing their benefits after only six weeks if they decline a job offer even if the new position pays less than the job they lost. Dustin Pugel, senior policy analyst at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, says that will result in people making less money in jobs for which their work experience could be a poor match.

“So it’s not only worse for those workers who are going to end up with lower wages,” says Pugel, “it’s worse for employers and it’s worse for the economy overall because the skillsets that they’ve been developing over a lifetime are no longer being put to use.”

Advocates of HB 4 argue it’s important to get people back into the workforce even at lower wages, and then they can climb their way back into higher paying positions.

“I just don’t believe the premise that a person should wait until the perfect job comes along is the right way for them to find employment,” says Anne-Tyler Morgan, an attorney with McBrayer PLLC. “Getting them back into the workforce and then able to look for a job in their field is the ramp that’s recommended by this bill.”

The bill does incentivize unemployed individuals to pursue job training and certifications by offering them an additional five weeks of unemployment benefits while they train. Sunderland says that can encourage them to retool their skills for in-demand fields.

But Londrigan says people will still have to pay for that job training, which will create another financial burden during an already difficult time. Pugel warns that states that have reduced their benefits below the 26-week national standard have failed to see improved labor participation rates or a reduction in the number of available jobs.

Changes to Public Assistance Programs

On the last evening before the veto period, the House of Representatives gave final passage to new rules for public assistance benefits. HB 7 includes a public engagement requirement for able-bodied adults on Medicaid who have no dependents. It also changes the reporting requirements for people on benefits to disclose changes in income or life circumstance, and imposes tougher sanctions against those committing welfare fraud. The legislation also calls for a study of the so-called benefits cliff in which people suddenly lose all of their public assistance simply by earning a few dollars more than the income requirements for those programs.

The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy reported that as many as 200,000 Kentuckians could lose their Medicaid benefits under HB 7, and thousands more could lose access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.

“We don’t think that this is a really good way forward for either improving the safety net or helping people get back to work,” says Pugel.

If the goal is moving people back into the workforce, Pugel says the state should promote child care for working parents, services to help those caring for an elderly or disabled family member, and higher wages for workers.

Morgan says claims of thousands of needy Kentuckians losing their benefits under HB 7 are wildly overstated.

“Under this bill, the only benefits that will be lost are if people take illegal action with regard to their benefits or if they’re able-bodied with no dependents and refuse… to work,” says Morgan.

Earlier versions of the bill had stricter reporting requirements that Pugel says would’ve have been difficult for benefit recipients to comply with, and place more administrative burden on the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to track. He says most people don’t lose their benefits because they don’t qualify, but rather because they’ve failed to complete the necessary paperwork

Sunderland says the state Medicaid rolls have skyrocketed, going from just under 15 percent of the state’s population in 2000 to a full third of the population in 2020. He says that increased enrollment has come with extensive fraud and higher costs. For example, he says Kentucky’s Medicaid expenses jumped 25 percent from 2016 to 2020. All these factors combined show that Medicaid is failing as a benefits program, according to Sunderland.

“The objective is to give people the resources and the help when they need it and to help them graduate from the program into a job, but the structure of the program is not designed to meet that objective,” says Sunderland. “The problem with most of our public assistance programs is they’re not paying people to get back to work, they’re paying people to stay poor.”

But Pugel and Londrigan argue that misses a critical reality for many of the working poor: That most people on Medicaid and SNAP are employed, but their jobs pay so little that they still qualify for public assistance. They also say that claims of widespread fraud among recipients are overblown.

“This really is an effort to push people off of these benefit programs,” says Londrigan. “The goal should be to uplift people, to give them the opportunity to succeed, and to provide for their families when they’re in tough economic circumstances.”

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Season 29 Episodes

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Kentucky's Juvenile Justice System

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Legislation Introduced in the 2023 General Assembly

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Candidates for U.S. House of Representatives: Part Two

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Work, Wages and Welfare

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50 Years of Title IX

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The Impact of U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

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Kentucky's Ban on Abortion

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Discussing New Developments in the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Reducing Opioid Addiction Rates in Kentucky

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Candidates in the 2022 Primary Election: Part Two

S29 E16 Length 58:33 Premiere Date 05/02/22

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Lawmakers Review the 2022 General Assembly

S29 E14 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 04/18/22

Recap of the 2022 Legislative Session

S29 E13 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 04/11/22

Public Assistance and Jobless Benefits

S29 E12 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/28/22

Abortion Legislation in the 2022 General Assembly

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State Budget, Taxes, and Other 2022 General Assembly Topics

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Critical Race Theory and Approaches to Teaching History

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2022 Legislative Session at the Midpoint

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Name, Image and Likeness Compensation

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Child Abuse and Neglect

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Debating School Choice in Kentucky

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Debating Provisions in the Proposed State Budget

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Redistricting, State Budget, and Other Legislative Issues

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Discussing Legislative Goals for the 2022 General Assembly

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