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Higdon: Senate continues work on state budget in wake of Coronavirus impacts

By JIMMY HIGDON
14th District State Senator

Sunday, March 29, 2020 — The world is continuing to learn more about the COVID-19 pandemic with each passing day. As your state senator, I am proud to see how Kentuckians are responding. Even while implementing safety precautions such as “social distancing” that physically keeps us apart, we are pulling together like never before in order to fight this invisible enemy. Our motto has never been more evident. “United we Stand; Divided we Fall.”

SEN. JIMMY HIGDON

The Kentucky legislature returned to Frankfort last Thursday with the primary goal of advancing the state’s biennial budget. While negative economic impacts due to the coronavirus are inevitable, I am confident in the legislature’s ability to reconcile political differences and craft a balanced financial plan forward here in the Commonwealth that fulfils our statutory obligations.

BUDGET WORK CONTINUES. The budget conference committee began meeting last week. This bipartisan and bicameral group is tasked with reexamining the current budget document, and determining the most financially responsible avenue, given the economic climate. To get a clearer view of what the state’s financial future could look like, the committee heard a report from the Consensus Forecasting Group, whose members offered a less than optimistic projection with an estimated $300 million in revenue losses over the next two years. These difficult financial conversations and budget revisions will be ongoing until a final version of the budget is agreed upon. That is the budget process, and no proposals made by either chamber or the governor were ever a final product. The final budget will be the result of all working together to make difficult decisions. We are constitutionally required to pass a budget prior to adjourning the legislative session and are committed to that. Therefore, it is anticipated that both chambers will vote on the finalized budget bill when we reconvene on our next legislative day on Wednesday, April 1. We will be in veto recess until the session’s final days on April 14 and 15.

STAY INFORMED. There are many ways for you to stay informed on legislative happenings as we continue our work here in Frankfort. Livestreamed video feed is available for all General Assembly meetings. Kentucky Educational Television (KET) currently livestreams Senate and House proceedings as well as many committee sessions. The Legislative Research Commission (LRC) will livestream any committee meetings that aren’t covered by KET on YouTube.

You can tune in to live broadcasts online via the live streams provided by the Legislative Research Commission at https://legislature.ky.gov and KET at ket.org/legislature.

COVID-19 RELIEF BILL. To maximize the limited amount of time we have in Frankfort, the Senate continued to pass significant bills through committee and out of the Senate, most notably a COVID-19 relief bill, Senate Bill 150. This bill pertains to the various levels of state government and their ability to respond to COVID-19 and bring relief to the people of Kentucky. You can find details of this bill along with other bills that passed by visiting the aforementioned legislative website.

In recent days a piecemeal approach has been taken to establish safety precautions and protect Kentuckians’ health. This has been a part of the national outlined plan to attempt to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 outbreak. “Flatten the curve” means to prevent an exponential growth of cases that could overwhelm our state and country’s healthcare system.

Based on what we have seen thus far, infants, children, and young adults are not at high risk from COVID-19; but older adults and those with poor health conditions are. While younger folks may feel unconcerned about their own personal risks with the virus, the real concern is in the spreading of it to those who it can be dangerous for. That is why, no matter your age, it is important to avoid contact with others where you can, and when in the presence of others, maintain a practice of staying at least six feet apart. In a week or so, we will see how effective the state’s attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19 has been, at which time these efforts will be re-evaluated to determine how successful they have been. This has been discussed routinely by President Trump and the response team during the nationally televised press conferences and during those held by the Governor Beshear. I want to again commend the governor for continuing to update the people of Kentucky.

I understand that right now it feels like there are more questions than answers, but the aforementioned professionals are here to help us and many people are working hard to address the concerns you may have. I believe it is important that Kentuckians are aware of the resources that have been made available. I would ask for your assistance in making sure our fellow Kentuckians are aware as well.

COVID-19 HOTLINE. The COVID-19 Hotline is still available to those in need. This was established a few weeks ago in response to the growing concern of COVID-19. The number is 1 (800) 722-5725. The hotline is a service operated by the healthcare professionals at the Kentucky Poison Control Center who can provide advice and answer questions. For general information, they ask that you review their website prior to calling. Guidance is being provided as it becomes available. The website to visit is kycovid19.ky.gov. I want to share with you some of the information offered on the site so that you can be more familiar with COVID-19.

COVID-19 SYMPTOMS. Symptoms of the virus may appear 2-14 days after exposure; they include, fever, cough (dry), and shortness of breath. If you are worried, you are encouraged to stay at home or call the hotline listed above. It is unnecessary to go to the hospital or doctor’s office for general worry or anxiety about COVID-19. Doing so will only add to a higher concentration of people and only serves to further overwhelm the medical staff. If you are ill but otherwise would have not sought medical care, do not immediately seek in-person care. Instead, call your local healthcare provider or health department. If you are sick and feel you have an emergency, please call your doctor or seek medical care. Our healthcare professionals stand ready to help you. Emergency warning signs include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, unusual confusion or inability to arouse, and bluish lips or face. Keep in mind these emergency symptoms are not all-inclusive. Consult with your doctor on any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.

As you can see from safety precautions being implemented across the nation, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. It appears to spread mainly from person-to-person contact when people are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) and through respiratory droplets produced when a person coughs or sneezes. These droplets land in the mouth or nose of other people who are nearby or possibly inhaled into the lungs. You can take steps to protect yourself and others by thoroughly washing your hands for 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. The best practice you partake in is avoiding contact with others by self-quarantining and practicing social distancing.

The information on the kycovid19.ky.gov website is thorough and beneficial. Take some time to check it out.

UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS. Due to the mandated closure of some businesses deemed ‘non-essential,’ there have been thousands of Kentuckians financially impacted. The Education & Workforce Development Cabinet is working to serve better those displaced from work during this frustrating and challenging time. In the past couple of weeks, the cabinet has implemented a schedule for people who need to file Unemployment Insurance (UI) claims. They have organized it based on last names. This will likely be their standard procedure in the weeks ahead:

  • Sunday: A – D
  • Monday: E – H
  • Tuesday: I – L
  • Wednesday: M – P
  • Thursday: Q – U
  • Friday: V – Z (And all who missed their day)

Be on the lookout for updates from the cabinet on its social media pages and website: https://educationcabinet.ky.gov. People can file UI claims at https://kcc.ky.gov/career. Benefits have been extended to employees who typically do not qualify for them, such as the self-employed, substitute teachers, freelance workers, and independent contractors. The cabinet is asking that people with questions about their claims call the office closest to them, which can be found on its website.

There is also a line for employers who need to file a mass electronic claim. For this, you have to employ at least 50 people and be laying off at least 15. For additional information, you can email uieclaims@ky.gov or call 502-564-2369.

Please be mindful that these offices are receiving an extremely high influx of calls. Be patient and courteous to those on the other end of the call. They are there to help you during this difficult time. Only call if you qualify for the benefits to ensure those most in need are taken care of first.

SMALL BUSINESS DISASTER ASSISTANCE. For small business owners, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has enacted Disaster Loan Assistance (DLA). Loans can be used for a variety of needs where cash flow has dried up due to the unprecedented responses to COVID-19. The maximum loan term is 30 years. The interest rate is 3.75 percent for those who don’t have access to credit. Businesses with credit elsewhere do not appear to be eligible. The interest rate for non-profit organizations is 2.75 percent. Small agricultural cooperatives are listed as eligible. Businesses can get the additional information and apply online at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Applicants can call 1 (800) 659 – 2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov for more information. The deadline to apply has been set for December 21, 2020.

I encourage you to take an opportunity to express your gratitude to those who are making sure Kentuckians are taken care of. They include our medical professionals caring for the sick, first responders rushing to where they are needed, and neighbors helping neighbors. Finally, be kind and grateful to those throughout the field of food production and retail who are resolving to meet our needs, and working hard to ensure supplies are in stores and on shelves. There are many fears right now, and they are understandable, but I trust when we look back on this time we will remember how we pulled together to get through this crisis.

I implore everyone to be proportional and rational in their response to the COVID-19 virus disease. As you make your venture to the store for groceries and supplies, be mindful of others who are also in need. Purchase what you need and be confident that those throughout our food industry are working hard to keep what we need on the shelves. Also, remember that panic is just as much our enemy during this time as the virus itself is. Preparedness and precaution are our vital allies, panic is our enemy.

This crisis is not going away overnight. We don’t know how long this will last or what the results will be. I do know that we will pull through this by helping each other, working together, and praying for our families, community, state, and country. God bless each of you. Stay safe.

Please reach out to me if I can be of assistance. 270-692-6945

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