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Kentucky Lawmakers Tap Federal Relief Money To Fight Pandemic

J. Tyler Franklin

During a special legislative session called by Gov. Andy Beshear, Kentucky lawmakers have advanced a bill to use more than $69 million in federal coronavirus relief money to respond to the pandemic.

Republican-led committees in the state House and Senate passed identical bills that give Beshear’s administration the authority to spend the funds to help schools, hospitals and nursing homes weather COVID-19.

Rep. Jason Petrie, a Republican from Elkton, said the administration will have the ability to decide how much and what to spend the funds on.

“There is wide discretion given to the administration of being able to nimbly adapt the funds where the need is,” Petrie said.

House Bill 3 prioritizes using the money for testing, helping providers set up monoclonal treatment centers around the state, and creating “test and stay” programs at schools that allow students and staff to avoid quarantine by testing negative for the virus.

The $69.2 million comes from Kentucky’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law earlier this year.

Rep. John Blanton, a Republican from Salyersville, said he hoped the funds would be used to help hospitals attract and retain health care workers.

“My local hospitals are experiencing a great increase in pay for a term typically known as travel nurses,” Blanton said. “Their income levels are staying stagnant, but yet their cost of employees has increased dramatically.”

Beshear called the special session on coronavirus last weekend as cases surged and hospital capacity dwindled across the state.

The Republican-led legislature hobbled Beshear’s ability to respond to the pandemic earlier this year by passing several laws limiting his emergency powers. Now the governor’s emergency orders only last for 30 days unless renewed by lawmakers.

Though Republicans have long-opposed Beshear’s handling of the pandemic, the legislature and governor have had moments of cooperation ahead of the special session.

On Tuesday, lawmakers quickly passed a bill re-authorizing dozens of Beshear’s emergency orders, including the coronavirus emergency declaration, which was set to expire on Friday.

Rep. Savannah Maddox, a Republican from Dry Ridge, has filed an amendment to House Bill 3 that would bar state funding for entities that require employees to get vaccinated.

At least 12 hospital systems in Kentucky require their employees to get vaccinated.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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