Kentucky governor says GOP lawmakers cast ‘cruel’ votes on veto overrides

Published 10:01 pm Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Republican lawmakers cast votes that will “kick struggling Kentuckians while they are down” when they passed bills impacting jobless benefits and food assistance, Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday.

The Democratic governor responded on social media a day after the GOP-led legislature voted to override his vetoes of the two measures. Both proposals now become state law.

It reflects the bitter policy disputes likely to continue between Beshear and Republican lawmakers. And some of the issues could spill over into next year’s campaign when the governor seeks a second term in the GOP-trending Bluegrass State.

One bill passed despite Beshear’s opposition revamps rules for Kentucky’s laid-off workers to receive unemployment benefits. It will increase work-search requirements for people receiving jobless benefits and tie the length of time recipients get benefits to the unemployment rate. That could cut the number of benefit weeks by more than half in times of low jobless rates.

The other disputed measure ends Kentucky’s long-running COVID-19 state of emergency a few weeks earlier than planned. Beshear warned the action had deeper consequences, saying it would cut off extra federal food assistance to struggling Kentuckians at a time of rising food prices.

In his stinging response on social media Tuesday to the veto overrides, the governor said public service should be “about helping and not hurting those around you.”

“Our faith and values should compel us to be compassionate and fair, but yesterday’s veto overrides by the General Assembly were cruel and will kick struggling Kentuckians while they are down,” Beshear said.

Supporters of the unemployment-related measure call it an important step toward improving the state’s workforce shortages as businesses struggle to fill jobs as COVID-19 cases recede.

“There are 100,000 vacant jobs in Kentucky right now — across all sectors,” Republican Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said Monday. “Help wanted signs are up everywhere. If you are an able-bodied, healthy Kentuckian, there is no excuse for you to not have a job.”

Beshear said the new unemployment insurance standards position Kentucky to be “one of the least helpful states” for workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.

Meanwhile, the wrangling continued Tuesday over the measure ending Kentucky’s two-year-old pandemic-related state of emergency a few weeks early.

“Legislators voted to take food off the tables of hungry children and seniors at a time when groceries cost too much,” Beshear said in a social media post.

As of February, about 544,000 low-income Kentuckians qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Because of the pandemic, the federal government has provided about $50 million more in monthly SNAP benefits to Kentucky, according to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. Beshear warned that the legislature’s action would result in cutting their monthly average food stamp benefits by about $100.

Senate Republicans indicated Monday that governors can seek a one-month extension for the extra food aid beyond the date of the emergency ending. But the governor’s office told lawmakers that a state of emergency declaration is required to receive the emergency food assistance allotments.

Republicans noted that 28 other states have ended their COVID-19-related states of emergency. The measure ending Kentucky’s emergency is an indication that life is getting back to normal after the long fight against the pandemic, they said.

“Continuing to operate under a false emergency for the sake of pulling down federal dollars is simply fraudulent and unethical,” Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said.

The governor has noted that Kentucky has had no statewide coronavirus-related restrictions for six months, making the measure unnecessary.

Republican House Speaker David Osborne said it was appropriate to end the state of emergency.

“The governor continues to have the authority to temporarily address any issues that arise using the emergency regulatory process, but the people of Kentucky can’t live under a state of emergency indefinitely,” the speaker said.

More policy clashes are likely to flare between the governor and lawmakers as the legislature considers a range of bills dealing with the state budget, taxation, education, social issues and the social safety net. Tuesday was the 53rd day of this year’s 60-day session.