Tracking the Policy Response to COVID-19 in Kentucky
May 29, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic threatens the lives and well-being of Kentuckians and the resulting closure of large sectors of the economy affects jobs, income and the ability to meet basic needs. Proactive state and federal policy responses are crucial to save lives and protect economic security. In the short term, the response should focus on combating the virus, safeguarding Kentuckians’ health and well-being and making sure they can make ends meet. In the longer-term, it should support the economy in getting back on its feet. And to be effective, it must address existing racial, geographic, gender and economic disparities that the pandemic will worsen without direct action.
Check back here regularly for the latest on state and federal policy developments in response to the pandemic and what’s still needed.
Limiting the Spread and Harm of COVID-19
The most important and immediate policy response involves directly reducing the spread of COVID-19 and treating those who are diagnosed with the disease. Social distancing, stay-at-home orders and necessary business closures and reopening requirements are essential to reducing the disease’s spread, as are testing, tracking, quarantining and contact tracing for those who contract COVID-19. Kentucky’s health sector needs adequate data management, equipment, supplies and facilities, including ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE). It will also be important to give attention to particular places where spread is likely, including prisons and jails, nursing homes, schools and businesses that reopen. And for those who are not laid off but continue to work and provide vital services, access to supports and paid leave are essential.
- April 24: The Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act was signed into law, providing $75 billion for an emergency fund for hospitals and other health care providers and $25 billion for COVID-19 testing.
- March 27: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Security (CARES) Act was signed into law, providing additional dollars for hospitals, public health agencies, purchase of personal protective equipment, and related expenses.
- March 18: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law, providing paid family and medical leave (up to 12 weeks) and sick leave (up to 80 hours) for workers affected by coronavirus and related closures. It applies to businesses with less than 500 employees, and the federal government will reimburse for a portion of the costs.
- March 13: President Trump declared a national state of emergency.
- March 11: The World Health Organization declared the novel COVID-19 disease a global pandemic.
- March 6: The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act provided $8.3 billion in emergency funding nationwide, including grants to state and local public health agencies.
- April 20: The governor advised P-12 public schools to remain closed to in-person instruction for the remainder of the school year. Previously, he had recommended ceasing in-person classes beginning March 16 and extended that recommendation until May 1.
- April 14: The Kentucky Supreme Court temporarily (through May 31) required that most people who are arrested be administratively released pre-trial, and directed that individuals not be incarcerated for failure to appear in court or for nonpayment of fines, fees and child support. The Court also extended the cessation of most in-person court proceedings through May 31.
- April 5: Governor Beshear announced the state has entered a new agreement with Gravity Diagnostics to provide up to 2,000 COVID-19 tests a day. As of April 24, testing sites have since expanded to include drive-thru testing locations with free COVID-19 tests for anyone. As of May 5, additional testing is made available
- April 3: The state announces a new hotline (1-833-GIVE PPE) and website (giveppe.ky.gov) to streamline the donation process for PPE to healthcare providers.
- April 2: The governor announced early release and commutation for 186 individuals in prison with high-risk medical conditions and plans to commute sentences for another 743 people who are due to complete their sentences in the next 6 months. On April 26 the governor announced that an additional 352 sentences would be commuted.
- April 1: The Chief Justice issued an order suspending in-person services at court facilities and requiring court proceedings be conducted remotely through May 1 (replacing an earlier order issued March 26).
- March 30: The governor issued an order restricting out-of-state travel. On May 6, the Governor established new travel restrictions to reflect the court ruling that the previous order was too broad. As of May 22 the interstate travel ban has been lifted.
- March 24 and before: The governor closed restaurants except for take-out and delivery (March 16) and closed all non-life-sustaining businesses to in-person traffic (March 24).
- March 24: The governor signed SB 177, which provides relief to school districts regarding scheduling, the use of nontraditional instruction plans, the use of emergency leave, testing, and other relief measures to assist them in addressing COVID-19.
- March 23: The governor ceased all elective medical procedures.
- March 20: Kentucky’s Chief Supreme Court Justice issued a statement instructing judges to reduce incarceration right away to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks in Kentucky’s county jails. Efforts are underway at least in some counties to release individuals awaiting trial (who cannot afford bail).
- March 19: The governor issued guidance for partnerships between health care facilities and child care programs to support child care for health care workers, first responders, corrections officers and social workers.
- March 13: The governor announced that Kentucky Employers’ Mutual Insurance (KEMI) will provide wage replacement benefits for first responders and medical personnel who have been quarantined for COVID-19.
- March 7: The governor adjusted the state government sick leave policy including allowing new hires without accrued leave time to take leave, and encouraged other businesses to do the same.
- March 6: Governor Beshear declared a State of Emergency in Kentucky.
- Take additional action to produce and distribute greater resources for testing, PPE, ventilators, hospital surge capacity and other supplies and equipment.
- Provide additional support to frontline COVID-19 workers including health care, first responders, child care and grocery store workers through hazardous pay supplements, expedited access to protective equipment and testing, and additional occupational safety and health protections.
- Increase access to paid leave to more employees and for a longer period of time, and enact state paid sick days legislation.
- Take additional actions to reduce crowding in prisons and jails including measures to be taken by the Parole Board, Department of Corrections and law enforcement to release certain individuals, reduce intake and improve conditions.
Obtaining Adequate Public Resources
The recession currently underway will deeply reduce state tax receipts as employment declines and Kentuckians have less money to spend. At the same time, state expenses will increase as more people qualify for programs like Medicaid due to lower incomes, among other reasons. State resources are also limited because Kentucky’s rainy day fund is inadequate and revenues were tight even before COVID-19 hit. The most important way Kentucky can obtain resources now is through direct aid from the federal government. The state should also utilize its rainy day fund to meet current needs, avoid enacting additional tax cuts or breaks and consider new state tax revenue options that focus on those at the top who are most able to pay.
- March 27: The CARES Act will provide an estimated $1.7 billion to Kentucky in its Coronavirus Relief Fund, $410 million for K-12 and higher education and monies for childcare, public transportation and other areas.
- March 18: The Families First Act increased the federal match on traditional Medicaid temporarily by 6.2 percentage points, which will provide assistance to Kentucky’s budget amounting to approximately $480 million on an annual basis (though it ends in the quarter when the public health emergency is declared over). It also indirectly increases the share of costs the federal government pays for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
- May 20: Beshear announced a $300 million award to city and county governments as part of the CARES Act, which established the Coronavirus Relief Fund to reimburse local governments for a specific set of expenses incurred between March 1 and Dec. 30, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- April 15: The Kentucky General Assembly overrode gubernatorial line-item vetoes to pass a one-year budget that provides some targeted monies for COVID-19 (such as monies for the Poison Control Hotline that is being used for COVID-19 calls); it does not appropriate pending federal relief funds, and its accompanying revenue bill raises only $5 million.
- Provide substantially more state fiscal relief from the federal government, including flexible grant funding like the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund in the Great Recession and a further increase in the share of Medicaid costs paid by the federal government. Additional financial assistance should be large and tied to the state of the economy rather than the status of the emergency declaration.
- Enact additional revenue-raising tax changes at the state level that ask more of those at the top most able to pay.
Helping the Unemployed
Business closures and a fall in consumer spending are leading to massive layoffs across the Kentucky economy. Unemployment insurance (UI) is the most important tool to help those laid off make ends meet and eventually stimulate the economy once restrictions are lifted. But UI in Kentucky only reaches 1 in 5 unemployed Kentuckians and replaces only 45% of lost wages. Kentucky has not previously adopted many of the improvements other states have made under which more people are eligible for UI including more part-time, seasonal and low-wage workers who are disproportionately people of color and women. Nor has the state previously adopted work sharing, which allows more workers to be eligible for UI when businesses reduce their hours. Additionally, independent contractors and the self-employed are not typically eligible for unemployment insurance.
- March 27: CARES will increase (and fully pay for) unemployment benefits by $600 a week for 4 months, lengthen the time an unemployed person can receive benefits by 13 weeks and make benefits available to workers not normally eligible including the self-employed, furloughed, those seeking part time employment, independent contractors and gig economy workers. CARES also provides funds to support state work sharing programs.
- March 18: The Families First Act provided $6.3 million to Kentucky to help with extra administrative costs and the rise in unemployed and made that assistance contingent on states eliminating the waiting week and work search requirements and not charging employers in industries experiencing high layoffs.
- March 26: The Kentucky legislature passed SB 150 authorizing a number of important changes to the unemployment insurance system including work sharing so fewer Kentuckians are laid off and the adoption of the alternative base period so an unemployed worker’s last 3-6 months of work history count in considering whether they are eligible for benefits. These changes help Kentucky maximize the federal aid received that will come through CARES.
- March 25: Governor Beshear announced unemployment insurance will be extended to independent contractors, gig economy workers, the self-employed, substitute teachers, freelance and child care workers.
- March 16: The Governor waived the one-week waiting period and removed the work search requirements in unemployment insurance.
- Create a trigger tied to the state of the economy that would allow a potential federal extension beyond July 31 of the $600 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits.
- Make federal changes to provide access to unemployment benefits for laid-off immigrant workers without Social Security numbers.
- Continue to increase state capacity to handle and process unemployment claims and to implement new programs like work sharing and the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
Providing Basic Assistance and Help with Bills
Due to the collapse in the economy, Kentuckians need help making ends meet and dealing with bills in the face of lost jobs, hours and income. People first and foremost need cash assistance that can be used for a variety of purposes, as well as shelter for those who are homeless. They also need help with rent and mortgage payments, utility bills, student loans and other payments to avoid losing basic services in the short-term and facing unaffordable increases in debt down the road.
- April 1: The Supreme Court issued an order that eviction filings would not be accepted by the circuit court clerk until 30 days after the expiration of the order, making June the earliest individuals could be evicted statewide. Further, according to the CARES Act, evictions are prohibited in rental properties with federally-backed mortgages for 120 days.
- March 27: CARES will provide one-time checks (“rebates”) of $1,200 for individuals making up to $75,000, $2,400 for a married couple making up to $150,000 and $500 per child. Payments are phased out above those income levels to a maximum of $99,000 for individuals and $198,000 for married couples.
- March 25: Governor Beshear announced an eviction moratorium that will prevent people from losing shelter during the crisis. Though backed up rent payments will still be due, the federal CARES Act would provide more than $12 billion in emergency funding for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs – some of which may be used to help alleviate the strain on family budgets from rent during the crisis.
- March 18: The Department of Community Based Services announced an extension of certification periods for all public assistance programs (SNAP, KTAP, CCAP, Medicaid, and State Supplementation) so that participants maintain benefits during this time without the need to reenroll.
- March 16: The governor announced a three month extension on driver’s license renewals to reduce household costs (renewals cost $20 and reinstatement costs are $40) and prevent a trip to the department of motor vehicles.
- Make federal rebate checks recurring depending on the state of the economic recovery.
- Expand access to federal rebate checks to adults claimed as dependents and immigrants who file taxes using Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers.
- Provide additional federal assistance to low-income individuals and families through bringing back the TANF emergency fund established during the Great Recession.
- Change state rules on use of K-TAP to prevent loss of benefits and provide greater cash assistance to more families.
- Increase funding for emergency shelter and transitional housing to help with homelessness and housing insecurity.
- Though people cannot be evicted for late rent during the state of emergency, they could be charged late fees. Federal rental assistance is needed to help people afford housing and avoid prohibitive fees.
- Expand access to financial assistance and debt suspension for costs like rent, mortgages, utilities, medical debt, consumer debt and student loans.
Helping Put Food on the Table
Help paying for groceries and continuing to provide meals normally available at school will be crucial to families struggling to get by with fewer jobs and less income. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s the most important nutrition policy, helping put food on the table and also freeing up family income for other needs. Additionally, SNAP is an anti-recession program that improves health and local economies. But it only provides modest support and more is needed. Nutrition and hunger policies and efforts will also need to target populations at particular risk and vulnerability during this time, including seniors, children who are out of school and child care and the homeless.
- March 20: Nationwide waivers provided for school nutrition programs to allow flexibility around meal times, to allow for pick-ups or deliveries and to allow snacks and meals that would be given in an afterschool program to be utilized.
- March 18: The Families First Act increased the resources available for emergency supplemental food assistance and for children who attend a school that is now closed, and suspended the SNAP work reporting requirement for certain adults.
- May 21: DCBS has been approved by the USDA for a Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program to provide up to $313.50 per child in additional benefits to families with children who were eligible for free and reduced price meals in schools that they were unable to receive while schools have been closed since March 16.
- April 30: Kentucky announced it will participate in a new pilot project to allow SNAP benefits to be used to purchase groceries online through Amazon and Walmart.
- April 1: The Kentucky National Guard deployed 70 members to regional food bank warehouses in Louisville, Elizabethtown, Wilder and Lexington to distribute food bank resources including those from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) funds provided by the Families First Act.
- April 1: The Kentucky Department of Agriculture relaxed income requirements for food bank assistance from 130% to 185% of the poverty line through April 30.
- March 28: The USDA approved Kentucky’s request for the emergency SNAP allotment provided by the Families First Act of $28.7 million in extra benefits for April and May. This means 154,000 households participating in SNAP, or 67% of all SNAP households in Kentucky, will receive the maximum amount of benefits for their household size (normally SNAP benefits are reduced as household incomes rise).
- March 21: The USDA approved Kentucky’s waiver for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program to remove the requirement for physical in-person interviews and in-person supply pick-ups. As of March 26, there is also additional flexibility around nutrition requirements as some approved items are difficult to access. On April 7, Kentucky received permission from the USDA to waive medical documentation in WIC to ensure mothers with low incomes have access to infant formula and food.
- March 18: Governor Beshear extended by three months the requirement to recertify for SNAP and other public benefits, waived the work reporting requirement to SNAP adults without a disability or children. and announced that DCBS will accept client self-attested income verification. As of March 30, Kentucky was approved by the USDA to extend certification periods an additional 3 months, to 6 months (re-certification due March, April and May is extended to September, October and November).
- March 14: Kentucky’s waiver to be able to serve meals to students during Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) was approved by the USDA.
- Temporarily increase the maximum SNAP benefits in the next round of federal economic relief legislation, and maintain until the economy has recovered.
- Make additional federal changes that provide SNAP support to those with the lowest incomes, increase the federal cost share of SNAP administrative expenses.
- Make additional state changes to SNAP and WIC including waiving and creating greater flexibility in reporting requirements and eliminating the SNAP bans for people with a drug-related felony conviction.
Ensuring Health Coverage and Access to Care
Now more than ever, Kentuckians need access to health care to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to save lives. Kentucky needs to make testing free (along with making it widely available) and those getting care and treatment for COVID-19 shouldn’t face costs (including surprise medical bills). With incomes falling, many more Kentuckians will lose employer-based health coverage and we should make it as easy as possible for them to obtain coverage.
- March 27: CARES does not count its temporary boost in unemployment benefits of $600 a week as income for the purposes of determining eligibility for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, helping protect eligibility for those programs. It also requires private insurance plans cover testing and any future vaccine without cost sharing.
- March 18: The Families First Act provision to increase the share of traditional Medicaid and CHIP costs paid by the federal government will ease the strain of increasing enrollment on Kentucky’s budget, indirectly preserving coverage.
- April 2: Governor Beshear announced plans to move ahead with converting the state fairgrounds in Louisville into a 2,000-bed makeshift hospital.
- March 31: The Department for Medicaid Services provided a “Presumptive Eligibility” application that is significantly simplified and allows individuals to get health coverage through June 30 without having to complete the entire standard application.
- March 25: Kentucky passed an 1135 waiver that expands Medicaid eligibility to people with higher incomes, allows flexibility for provider enrollment, allows providers to use telehealth, and gives Department of Medicaid Services authority to increase reimbursement rates paid to providers.
- March 14: Governor Beshear guaranteed that COVID-19 testing would be free to all Kentuckians, even if they are uninsured.
- March 13: Governor Beshear reversed an administrative regulation that required Medicaid MCOs to charge co-pays to their members for most services.
- March 10: Governor Beshear issued an executive order to allow pharmacists to refill prescriptions for up to 30 days. As of May 8, the executive order allowing emergency refills and for pharmacists to work in non-traditional settings was extended until June 7, and could be further extended.
- March 9: Governor Beshear issued an executive order waiving all cost sharing for screening and testing of COVID-19 and prior authorization requirements.
- Require health insurers to cover treatment for COVID-19-related illness without cost sharing.
- Further expand emergency access to Medicaid to cover testing and treatment for COVID-19.
- Provide additional assistance in obtaining affordable coverage for newly uninsured individuals not eligible for Medicaid.
Supporting Small Businesses
Kentucky small businesses that have been forced to close or whose sales are falling dramatically need assistance to meet cash flow and weather the crisis. To restart the economy once restrictions are eventually limited, it is important that small businesses are able to sustain themselves. Otherwise, the recovery becomes harder due to lost capacity and families and individuals lose what they have worked to build.
- April 24: The Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act includes $310 billion to replenish the small business loan program that was created as part of the CARES Act but ran out of money, and an additional $60 billion for a separate small business emergency disaster loan program.
- March 27: CARES provides $349 billion in loans to small businesses with less than 500 employees that can be forgivable if businesses agree not to lay off employees.
- March 20: The state qualified for Small Business Administration disaster certification, meaning small businesses, for-profit contractors and private non-profits anywhere that have been harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic are eligible to apply for low-interest SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans.
- March 17: The state announced it is working with federal partners to continue making payments through the Child Care Assistance Program (state payments as well as family co-pays) to child care centers shuttered by the pandemic.
- Provide additional resources in the form of forgivable debt to small businesses and assistance with meeting cash flow demands so they can remain in business.
- Provide financial assistance tailored to the needs of frontline businesses including hospitals, child care centers and grocery stores.
Protecting Kentuckians During Phased Reopening
The healthier and more financially stable Kentuckians are through the pandemic, the greater our economic potential will be once it is safe to fully reopen businesses and schools. Making sure it is safe to return to work in some sectors and financially possible for other workers to stay healthy at home are critical to protecting people and the economy. Public health actions to closely monitor the spread of COVID-19 and continue successfully reducing cases are essential as healthy at home measures are lessened. They must also be paired with policy choices to expand and extend temporary boosts to paid leave, nutrition assistance, health coverage, unemployment insurance and more. Our economy will suffer long term if Kentuckians are forced to choose between their health or their ability to keep food on the table and pay bills.
- In early May, Governor Beshear announced the Healthy at Work initiative for reopening some Kentucky businesses between May 11 and June 29, though some high-risk businesses entailing close proximity and large crowds, for instance, will remain closed.
- May 11: Phase 1 of Healthy at Work was issued including 14 minimum guidelines such as continued telework where possible, enforced social distancing, universal mask wearing, and temperature and health screenings. Specific reopening dates and guidelines were issued for houses of worship (May 9); manufacturing, construction, office buildings, vehicle services, horse racing, and pet grooming and boarding (May 11); government offices/agencies (May 18); and retail businesses, funeral and memorial services (May 20).
- May 22: Phase 2 of Healthy and Work began, with additional openings being established through June 15. On May 22, restaurants could open at 33% capacity if they met minimum healthy at work and social distancing guidelines. On May 25, social gatherings of no more than 10 people with social distancing were authorized, and public facing businesses including barbers, hair salons, tattoo parlors and tanning salons could reopen.
- KCEP COVID-19 research and analysis
- Executive actions taken by Governor Beshear
- KYSafer to report non-compliance to Healthy at Work guidelines
- ThriveKY Coalition’s COVID-19 State and Policy Updates Webinar
- Resources for Kentuckians During COVID-19
- Centers for Disease Control public health guidelines
- Economic Policy Institute research on federal policy response
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyses
- Tracker on state and local actions to protect incarcerated individuals
- Nutrition Policy actions from the USDA