- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:

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Oct. 17

Lexington Herald-Leader on three Kentucky congressmembers who voted against an aid package for victims of recent hurricanes and wildfires:

Three Kentuckians - congressmen Andy Barr, James Comer and Thomas Massie - were among a minority of Republicans who last week voted against an aid package for victims of recent hurricanes and wildfires.

Their votes didn’t matter to the outcome. The measure easily cleared the House 353-69 and awaits action in the Senate.

But their votes should matter to Kentuckians who would never withhold help from people suffering through an emergency.

And it is still an emergency - from the Atlantic to the Pacific - for Americans who have been battered by fire and rain. In a two-month span, three record-breaking hurricanes and California’s deadliest-ever wildfires have created huge recovery and rebuilding costs.

In Puerto Rico, people are still struggling just to survive. A month after Hurricane Maria, most of the island remains without power and almost a third lacks drinkable water.

Last week, the U.S. House approved a $36.5 billion emergency aid package for Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida, all of which were hammered by storms, and for communities in California devastated by wildfires that have killed 41 people. The package also includes debt forgiveness for the National Flood Insurance Program, enabling the program to keep paying claims.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the government needs to ensure Puerto Rico can “begin to stand on its own two feet” and do more to help the U.S. territory rebuild its economy.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said, “In times like these, there is no question - the American people and their government are here to help.”

Well, not everyone is here to help. Barr, Comer and Massie are more motivated by a rigid budget-cutting ideology and by marching orders from right-wing groups such as Heritage Action which called for rejecting the emergency aid until the flood insurance program is reformed.

Barr’s office told us that he viewed the aid package as a bailout for the flawed flood insurance program and opposed the relief bill because it contained not “even a single” reform to protect “the next generation of Americans” from having to foot the bill when the flood-insurance program requires future bailouts.

We’re all for reforming the federal flood insurance program which, as it now stands, wastes taxpayers’ money by subsidizing development in flood-prone areas. Support for reforming the program is strong across the political spectrum.

But defaulting on existing claims isn’t an option. And the moment to debate reform’s details isn’t when victims are still picking through the rubble that was their homes or drinking contaminated water because it’s all they can get.

Likewise, Congress has time to figure out how to pay for - and prevent - the rising costs of recovering from natural disasters exacerbated by poor planning. Congress can, and should, do that without making suffering Americans wait for help.

Online: https://www.kentucky.com/

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Oct. 13

The State Journal on confronting the state’s soaring disability rolls:

An explosion over the past 35 years in the number of Kentuckians receiving government-funded disability benefits should alarm liberals and conservatives alike.

A report issued this week by Kentucky’s Disability Determination Services, part of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, shows that disability enrollment grew an astonishing 249 percent from 1980 to 2015, during which Kentucky’s overall population grew just 21 percent. Childhood enrollment in disability benefits jumped an even more staggering 449 percent.

Two possibilities come to mind, and we expect both are to blame for the alarming numbers:

. The system is being abused by adults who are fully capable of working but choose instead to sit home and draw a disability check (or two or three, if they are successful in getting benefits for their children).

. Poor people in Kentucky are getting sicker, in many cases from poor lifestyle choices such as smoking and overeating, and getting addicted to drugs - prescription or illicit - to cope.

Regardless of the reasons, Kentucky must treat the burgeoning disability rolls as a crisis, lest the problem gut the state’s workforce and render our commonwealth uncompetitive economically. We’re already teetering on that ledge. Some 11.2 percent of Kentuckians were receiving some form of disability benefit payment in 2015 - the second-highest percentage in the country. In impoverished Eastern Kentucky, roughly 1 out of 5 people is on disability.

According to the report, per capita opioid prescriptions for SSI/Medicaid adult recipients increased from 47.58 doses in 2000 to 147.29 doses in 2015, a 210 percent increase. Per capita psychotropic prescriptions for SSI/Medicaid children increased from 272.61 doses in 2000 to 456.87 doses in 2015, an increase of 168 percent.

“The explosive growth of benefit dependence over the past 35 years has been fueled by a multitude of factors which are completely unrelated to the mitigation or treatment of hardship borne of genuine disability,” said Bryan Hubbard, acting commissioner of the Department for Income Support, which oversees DDS. “Armed with the grim statistical reality of the past 35 years, we can seek better outcomes over the next 35 as we work to fix a broken system that must be preserved for individuals who can neither care nor provide for themselves.”

The Bevin administration believes major reforms are needed in the way disability applications are considered and approved. The report lays out specific recommendations, including much more strenuous testing for medical and psychological problems before benefits are granted.

The truly disabled - of whom there are many - should have nothing to fear from more rigorous screening. Weeding out the bogus claims will keep disability assistance viable for those who legitimately need it.

Online: https://www.state-journal.com/

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Oct. 13

The Richmond Register on preventing wildfires:

As cooler temperatures and falling leaves return so has Kentucky’s fall wildfire season, running from October to Dec. 15.

The Kentucky Division of Forestry reminds us of the rules to keep ourselves, our neighbors, our homes and property as safe as possible.

It is against the law to do any open burning within 150 feet of any woodland or brushland between the daylight hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the fall and spring forest fire hazard seasons.

Compounding the risk, during the October to December fire hazard season, Kentucky typically sees lower relative humidity (RH) numbers than in summer, and winds become erratic due to the seasonal change. Because the humidity rises during the day and winds fall, restricting burning until after 6 p.m. during the fall and spring reduces the chances of outdoor fires escaping.

Arson is a felony offense and, last fire season, 70 people were given citations for illegal burning and 14 were arrested and charged with setting fires in the Commonwealth.

The Division of Forestry offers these tips for safe outdoor burning:

. Consider alternatives to burning. Some yard debris, such as leaves and grass, may be more valuable if composted.

. Check with the fire marshal’s office for local laws on burning debris. Some communities allow burning only during specified hours; others forbid it entirely.

. Check the weather. Don’t burn if conditions are dry or windy.

. Only burn natural vegetation from your property. Burning household trash or any other man-made materials is illegal. Trash should be hauled away.

. If you must burn, be prepared. Use a shovel or hoe to clear a perimeter around the area where you plan to burn.

. Keep fire tools ready. To control the fire, you will need a hose, bucket, a steel rake and a shovel for tossing dirt on the fire.

. Never use flammable liquids such as kerosene, gasoline or diesel fuel to speed burning.

. Stay with your fire until it is completely out.

Last fall, the division responded to 520 fires that burned 52,216 acres with a timber value loss of $20,642,663. The majority of the fires occurred in November.

Most of Kentucky’s wildfires are preventable. They are the result of human activity - arson and careless open-burning (burning of trash, debris and brush). If people start wildfires, people can prevent them.

So when the urge for fall cleaning extends to burning brush in your yard or property, we urge everybody to follow the law and keep it under control.

Online: https://www.richmondregister.com/

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