On October 9, 2020, the undersigned groups submitted the following letter to Governor Beshear.
Dear Governor Beshear:
Thank you for your leadership and actions to save lives and limit the harm of the COVID-19 pandemic across Kentucky. As part of those efforts, we appreciate your focus thus far in using Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) monies from the CARES Act to directly fight the virus, provide some relief to struggling individuals and families and shore up the budget to the extent allowable under the act.
With another round of vital aid from Congress now unlikely until after the election or perhaps until early next year, and without further flexibility in use of CRF dollars, it is that much more important for remaining CRF monies ($769 million as of September 9th, which must be used between now and the end of the year) to be put to their highest and best use.
We are writing as a coalition of community and labor organizations, state advocates and experts on the issues and conditions arising from the pandemic to urge you to prioritize allocation of the scarce remaining CRF funds for the following needs:
1. Combatting the virus
As is appropriate, you have allocated a significant amount of CRF dollars to fight the virus, including monies for PPE, testing, contact tracing, support for local health departments and more. And as you are intimately aware, COVID-19 cases are rising again and remain dangerously high. The more we contain the pandemic, the more lives will be saved and the better our economy will fare over time. Significant concerns remain regarding safety in schools, universities, prisons and jails, nursing homes and group living facilities, and other workplaces, and we know that additional dollars will be required to fight the virus through the end of the year.
2. Meeting the needs of the most vulnerable Kentuckians facing unprecedented hardship
Thank you for your decisions to begin using CRF dollars to help families pushed to the brink in this crisis, including $15 million for eviction prevention and diversion programs, $40 million for $100 weekly supplemental unemployment benefits for 5-6 weeks, monies to address unemployment backlogs from our state’s outdated technology, $5 million for senior meals and $8 million for broadband access.
Hardship is deep and widespread across the commonwealth. According to Census data, over 40% of Kentucky adults report a loss of household employment income in the crisis. Much more than previous recessions, low wage workers have been hit hardest. The conditions are also worse for Black and Latinx Kentuckians, who because of historical, structural barriers were more likely to be laid off in the midst of the crisis and less likely to be hired back since.
Now 12% of Kentucky adults say their household didn’t have enough to eat last month, and 13% of adults with children in the household say lack of affordability meant kids weren’t eating enough. Approximately 1 in 4 Kentucky renters report they are behind on rent payments, and the Kentucky Public Service Commission projects $150 million is needed through 2020 to prevent utility disconnections.
A true recovery for our economy is nowhere in sight. Despite some return to work the last few months, the state’s joblessness remains at levels exceeding the worst point in the Great Recession. Temporary layoffs are becoming permanent and the economy faces new weaknesses.
To the maximum extent possible with dollars remaining, we urge you to expand efforts to support the most vulnerable Kentuckians through the end of the year. Areas of need include, but are not limited to:
- Expanded emergency cash assistance (to supplement Team Kentucky donations) for people facing crises, including those who receive no or inadequate unemployment benefits or face extraordinary medical, funeral or other costs;
- Increased food assistance, which could include grants to the state’s network of food banks, funding to schools and nonprofits providing child nutrition programs, funds for food assistance programs for low-income university and community college students, and continued senior food aid;
- Additional funding for rental assistance for those facing potential eviction as well as mortgage assistance for people facing possible foreclosure, for homelessness services across the state, and for help paying utility costs;
- Continued supplemental unemployment benefits beyond the 5-6 week period now being provided, and emergency unemployment benefits for those laid-off workers whose benefits run out entirely starting in October;
- Financial assistance to struggling childcare centers and/or to families to support childcare costs;
- Expanded outreach to ensure all eligible Kentuckians are signed up for programs like Medicaid and SNAP;
- Additional support for low-income and disadvantaged students lacking broadband internet access and facing higher degrees of learning loss due to closed or hybrid schools;
- Additional funding for increased behavioral health services in schools and communities to respond to the negative impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of Kentucky adults and children.
3. Doing what is possible to protect critical public services from harmful budget cuts
The more the budget is protected by covering certain payroll expenses through CRF monies, the less we will face harmful budget cuts that will reduce the health and well-being in our communities and drag the economy down further. We appreciate that significant CRF dollars have been used within the guidelines Treasury has laid out to cover payroll at eligible agencies and to support local governments as well. And we are grateful that Budget Director John Hicks has already indicated CRF monies are reserved for state agency reimbursements through December. The state budget is a critical tool in supporting families and holding communities together in a crisis. Everything possible must be done to protect it.
Thank you for your continued leadership in addressing the crisis of a lifetime in our commonwealth. The below organizations are happy to provide more information on specific needs across the state. An attached research brief from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy provides more details and context on the choices in front of Kentucky with remaining CRF monies.
We offer our cooperation as you create and implement a plan for the remaining CRF funds that minimizes the harm to Kentuckians in the face of the extraordinary challenges of the coming months.
Advocacy Action Network
Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center
BAC local 18
Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky
IATSE Local 17
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
IUE-CWA Local 83761
Kentucky Alliance for Retired Americans
Kentucky Center for Economic Policy
Kentucky Equal Justice Center
Kentucky Voices for Health
LIUNA-Kentucky Laborers District Council
Machinists Local Lodge 804
Mental Health America of Kentucky
Northern Kentucky Labor Council
Teamsters Local 89
The Women’s Network
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 227
USW, District 8
CC: State Budget Director John Hicks
Attachment: Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, “How Kentucky Should Spend Remaining Coronavirus Relief Fund Monies,” September 28, 2020.