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Legislative update: Plans to reopen state’s economy are an encouraging sign

By JIMMY HIGDON
14th District State Senator

Monday, May 4, 2020 — What would have been the weekend of the 146th Kentucky Derby made the ongoing COVID-19 response more difficult. We will have to wait until September for this time-honored tradition that is beloved by Kentuckians and people across the world, but thankfully within the past week, we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel as discussions of reopening the state become more prominent.

SEN. JIMMY HIGDON

For the past several weeks many have encouraged the governor to set forth a plan for reopening the state. I have been complimentary of the governor for his efforts to protect Kentuckians from the virus while also being concerned about the negative economic impact we are placing on our state. The risks surrounding financial despair are as real as the virus. Public health and the economy are intertwined, and the best solutions support both.

If you have concerns or comments for Governor Andy Beshear, call his office at (502) 564-2611.

In time, the economic impact of the virus will touch the lives of all Kentuckians. We can be thankful that thus far some financial relief has been provided to those impacted. That is not a sustainable plan, however, because funding is finite and only as available as tax revenues will allow. Those revenues have been stifled by our economic shutdown in response to COVID-19. I am pleased to see our state is beginning to move in a new direction as the governor released a “tentative reopening schedule.” I contacted the Governor’s staff to lobby for an expedited reopening plan, as we are seeing plans by our neighbors to the North and South are weeks ahead of our plans. Nevertheless, the Governor’s plan is a step in the right direction.

Last week, Gov. Beshear said that if Kentucky can maintain positive results in the fight against the virus, the following business sectors are in line to restart:

● May 11 – Manufacturing, construction, vehicle and vessel dealerships, professional services (at 50 percent of pre-outbreak capacity), horse racing (without spectators), pet grooming and boarding

● May 20 – Retail, houses of worship

● May 25 – Social gatherings of no more than 10 people, barbers, salons, cosmetology businesses, and similar services

There is no timeline provided at this time for the reopening of restaurants, gyms, and daycare facilities in phase 1. To those small business owners and parents for whom this imposes frustrations and difficulties, you remain on my mind.

Seeing this plan through to the end is important for several reasons, each of which deserves care and attention from every Kentuckian. It is my sincere hope that our economy can be reopened sooner rather than later, and we can all return to a more normal lifestyle while taking those necessary precautions to protect Kentuckians’ health. Public health and the economy are intertwined, and the best solutions support both.

Recent estimates are that state revenues may come in $500 million dollars short of what was previously expected. A record number of Kentuckians have applied for unemployment, as the United States Labor Department released numbers recently showing that Kentucky ranks number 2 in jobless claims over the past six weeks. Last weekend, the Office of Unemployment Insurance resolved over 300,000 claims and paid out $73.6 million dollars to approximately 150,000 people. The solvency of the state trust fund becomes a matter of concern as we see dollars going out but reduced revenue coming in. In that respect, we can see how we all truly are in this together. Without a functioning economy, the needs of Kentuckians are at risk.

In our recently passed one-year state budget, Kentuckians can see how the public health of Kentuckians was prioritized. All those things we prioritize in our state government, however, are dependent on the funding to see them through. These are reasons why it is essential that we get our economy running again, because if we do not, the funding we need to provide for effective government responses to Kentuckians’ health needs, along with so much more, will not exist.

It is my true hope that Kentucky can get back to work. Kentuckians have done a phenomenal job adjusting to these unprecedented times, and I trust we are all capable of balancing the public health concerns of COVID-19 with the essential reopening of our economy. Both must be considered with equal importance.

It was announced last week, as we continue to deal with unemployment insurance claims, that the Legislative Research Commission staff has been asked to assist with helping expedite claims. This is one more example of how we are coming together during these difficult days. A new number has been provided for people who are still having issues with obtaining unemployment, 1-844-958-4627. I want to encourage you to reach out to me if I can be of any assistance to you on this matter especially if you have not received confirmation that your unemployment is being processed. You can call me at 270-692-6945 or send me an email at jimmy.higdon@lrc.ky.gov.

I want to again thank the Nelson County Gazette, WBRT, WOKH, and other local media for continuing to play a vital role in the sharing of this information. It is my pleasure to serve as your senator, and I continue to work alongside my colleagues to do our best to see Kentucky through the challenging times ahead. Your feedback is important to me along the way, especially during our upcoming interim session where we will begin looking at legislation we are interested in exploring during the 2021 Regular Session next January.

God bless each of you and continue to stay safe.

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