Kentucky governor seeks legislative input on rewarding state’s essential-workers with bonuses

Published 6:31 am Thursday, October 14, 2021

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has reached out to top lawmakers in seeking the legislature’s collaboration on his proposal to use federal pandemic aid to reward frontline workers with bonuses.

The governor, in a letter dated Tuesday, asked that legislative leaders select six lawmakers — four Republicans and two Democrats — to join a work group to fill in details of his plan. Beshear wants to use $400 million in pandemic assistance to award the extra pay to essential workers employed throughout the pandemic. Republicans hold overwhelming majorities in the legislature.

The legislators would join members of Beshear’s administration on the group. They would try to reach consensus on key issues — which professions should be included and the appropriate amount of payments, the Democratic governor said.

“Throughout each phase of the pandemic, brave Kentuckians showed up every day to perform essential work at the risk of harm to themselves and their families,” Beshear said in his letter.

His letter specifically mentioned nurses, police officers, firefighters, educators, grocery store workers and agriculture workers. Beshear referred to other workers last week when revealing his proposal.

In the coming months, Kentucky will receive about $1 billion in additional federal aid from the American Rescue Plan Act, the governor’s letter said.

Lawmakers will make the final decision next year on appropriating the federal assistance.

The governor said the bonuses would “recognize, thank and incentivize the brave essential workers” who by then will have “continued in their employment and fought this pandemic” for two years.

“We look forward to working in collaboration in seeking an approach that provides a positive incentive to all essential workers to continue their employment in the coming months, knowing they are appreciated and there is something to look forward to as we work to defeat this virus,” Beshear’s letter said.

On Wednesday, Beshear reported 2,380 new COVID-19 cases statewide and 26 more virus-related deaths. The state’s death toll from the virus rose to at least 9,210 since the pandemic began. The rate of Kentuckians testing positive for the coronavirus dropped to 8%, he said.

Beshear’s letter on essential-worker bonuses was sent to Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker David Osborne, both Republicans, and to the chambers’ top-ranking Democrats — Sen. Morgan McGarvey and Rep. Joni Jenkins. The letter was obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request. The Lexington Herald-Leader was the first to report on the letter.

Many Kentucky hospitals have struggled with chronic staffing shortages to treat an influx of coronavirus patients. Some prominent Senate Republicans urged the governor to call lawmakers into a special legislative session to direct immediate aid to hospitals to overcome staffing woes.

Beshear has said the federal money won’t be available until next year, when lawmakers are back in regular session. He’s hoping the promise of bonuses encourages health care workers to stay in their current jobs and resist any temptation to go elsewhere for higher pay.