Monday, March 21, 2022

Republicans end state of emergency by overriding veto, say Beshear can get one more month of extra food benefits from feds

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky's overwhelmingly Republican legislature has overridden Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear's veto of a resolution ending the Covid-19 state of emergency about one month early, resulting in a $100 monthly food assistance cut for 544,000 people. Legislators say he can get that money back another way. 

"It is my very clear understanding from reading the federal guidance that every governor across the state has the opportunity to extend the access to those additional benefits for a one-month period beyond the state's declaration of the end of emergency," Senate President Pro Tem David Givens of Greensburg, said during the Senate floor debate Monday.

Givens later added, "And if I'm not mistaken, I think 28 other states have ended their state of emergency and successfully received that one-month extension if they have so applied."

Beshear's office did not respond directly to questions about Givens' remarks, instead referring Kentucky Health News to Beshear's veto letter and a letter sent to every legislator Monday by S. Travis Mayo, general counsel to the governor, suggesting that they still disagree with this assertion. 

Beshear wrote in his March 16 veto message that "without the state declaration of emergency related to the Covid-19 global pandemic, the emergency SNAP Allotments will end." SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps.

The counsel's letter said the emergency allotment requires "a State declaration of an emergency related to Covid-19." The legislature has barred Beshear from declaring another Covid-19 emergency without its OK.

State Sen. Donald Douglas
Presenting Senate Joint Resolution 150 for the override, sponsor Donald Douglas of Nicholasville said that when the emergency allotments go away, benefits will return to the normal level, and to suggest otherwise is "fearmongering."

"Ask yourself, should SNAP benefits be a way of life?" Douglas asked. "Now we know it is for some; should it be a way of life for adults? Just ask yourself that question.”

The resolution will cut the current monthly benefit of $243 by about $100.

Douglas did not answer Democratic Leader Morgan McGarvey's question about what restrictions are currently in place due to the state of emergency (there are none), but said, "Ending emergency is just as important to the psychological well being of our state as it is to anything else."

Addressing the presiding officer, the normal legislative custom, Douglas said, "This is really not about what restrictions, Mr. President, this is about the commonwealth moving forward." 

McGarvey replied, "Let's not play politics with this bill. Let's not put at risk the federal dollars needed by families and kids across Kentucky in all of our districts to make this point three weeks before the decision we set and made in January of this year," referring to the legislature's decision to end the state of emergency on April 14.

The Senate overrode the veto 25-8, along party lines. Five Republicans did not vote: Sens. Matt Castlen of Owensboro, C.B. Embry of Beaver Dam, Paul Hornback of Shelbyville, Alice Forgy Kerr of Lexington, and Adrienne Southworth of Lawrenceburg.

Several Eastern Kentucky senators said they were able to vote yes on the override because of the assurance that these food benefits could be obtained by other means. The region has some of the highest rates of SNAP participation, according to an interactive map by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy

"I would normally vote no against this, but based upon the governor having the authority to extend this and nobody losing any benefits I'm going to vote aye," said Sen. Johnnie Turner, R-Harlan.

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said, "I believe wholeheartedly like many other governors that have shown leadership, this governor has the full authority within his wheelhouse to extend this past another 30 days."

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, said "This is a very simple fix that our governor could do. Our people deserve to move on from the state of emergency." 

Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville, encouraged his colleagues to vote no, saying passage of the resolution would impact "the weakest among us" and that the rationale for passing it is "purely political." Douglas has a primary-election opponent who has been an outspoken foe of pandemic restrictions, but Yates said the political motive is directed at Beshear.

“It makes me sick to my stomach,” Yates said, that Republicans are hurting people “for no reason whatsoever other than to take a political shot at the governor.”

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said, "I would admit that this bill is largely a symbol, but it's a very important symbol; the symbolism is we're ready to move forward." 
Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said, "There is no more state of emergency here. What you have is legislators that are here today, asking us to tell the federal government that we still have one so we can get more money. That amounts to lying by some people's standards. I think that's wrong. . . . I don't think we should be asking for help when we're no longer needing it." 

The House overrode the veto of SJR 150 by a 68-16 vote with no discussion. The state of emergency will end as soon as Secretary of State Michael Adams signs it.

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