Rand Paul will formally announce today in Louisville, the largest city in his home state of Kentucky, that he will seek the Republican nomination for president. But what Paul won’t tell the crowds of Kentuckians and others gathered in the city to watch his announcement is that his policies would further devastate the people already suffering in one of the worst economies in the nation.
Though Paul has generally expressed suspicion that poor people are cheating or being preyed upon by government programs, Kentuckians, who have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, rely heavily on programs Paul has vowed to dismantle, including Obamacare and food stamps.
Rand Paul has said he will not rest until Obamacare is 100 percent repealed, preferring to rely on “freedom” in the health insurance marketplace. But Kentuckians living in the rural parts of the state, which ranks among the most unhealthy in the nation, were among the groups that benefited most from the health care law. Before the health care law was signed, a staggering 640,000 people, or 15 percent of the state, lacked health insurance in Kentucky.
Gov. Steve Beshear (D) was an advocate for the law from the beginning. As political controversy followed the implementation of the law, he urged his fellow Southern, red state governors to put the health of their citizens above politics. “There’s a huge disconnect between the rank partisanship of national politics and the outlook of governors whose job it is to help beleaguered families, strengthen work forces, attract companies and create a balanced budget,” the governor wrote in a New York Times op-ed.
In May 2014, after the first open enrollment, Beshear noted that over 421,000 Kentuckians — almost one in ten state residents — signed up for coverage through the state exchange. “I see the ACA’s positive impact first-hand in my home state, a place whose collective poor health has long been jeopardizing the lives and financial security of hard-working families who can’t seem to get ahead,” he wrote in a Huffington Post column in which he told Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to “get out of the way” of the law.
He also noted that some 330,000 of Kentucky’s uninsured, mostly working poor, qualified for Medicaid under its expansion.
Kentucky was the only Southern state that agreed to both expand Medicaid and set up its own exchange. And both measures had positive impacts on the state’s economy. A study conducted before the implementation found that the expansion of Medicaid would inject $15.6 billion in Kentucky’s economy over eight years, create 17,000 jobs and help the budget improve by $802.4 million — all vital steps forward in a state that recently had the sixth worst unemployment rate in the nation.
Paul has also made clear that he would take down the social safety net as president, even comparing food stamps to slavery. But nearly 900,000 Kentuckians — one in five residents — struggle to get by on the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), even as benefits have shrunk over the past few years. Meanwhile, food banks in Kentucky have picked up the slack; 56 percent of organizations in the state had to serve more people this year than last, as more than 600,000 people visited food banks in 2014, according to the Kentucky Association of Food Banks.
Paul believes food stamp recipients are abusing the system to “buy junk food” and “McDonalds,” but 91 percent of Kentucky food bank clients reported that they bought unhealthy food because it was the cheapest way to feed their families.
Paul also opposes setting a minimum wage, let alone increasing it. About 49,000 Kentuckians earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 or less, but even that falls short of how much it costs to live in the state. According to MIT’s living wage calculator, a Kentucky family making minimum wage would still be stuck deep in poverty.
Nevertheless, Paul has dismissed concerns over poverty, asserting that “the rich are getting richer, but the poor are getting richer even faster.”