First year as governor required tough decisions to save lives, but better days ahead in 2021
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Dec. 8, 2020) – At the end of his first year in office, Gov. Andy Beshear today said tough but smart steps taken to control the coronavirus pandemic and save lives have positioned the commonwealth to distribute vaccines, defeat COVID-19 and build a better Kentucky in 2021.
“Fighting COVID-19 has not been easy, but unlike many states, Kentucky was able to stop surges of COVID-19, which saved tens of thousands of lives compared with early projections and helped to protect health care systems and front-line workers from being completely overwhelmed,” Gov. Beshear said. “All the sacrifices we have made on Team Kentucky have left our people stronger and our state better prepared to emerge from this dark period ready to quickly embrace new opportunities.”
Gov. Beshear said a key to Kentucky’s successes in the past year was his “being done with politics” and understanding early on that the coronavirus threat was real and deadly and that the safety of Kentuckians and our economic future depended on an effective public health response.
On March 6, the day Kentucky recorded its first coronavirus case, Gov. Beshear declared a state of emergency. Throughout the crisis, he has provided calm, resolute leadership and set an example nationally for his reasoned and proactive decisions to slow the spread. He acted decisively to implement requirements for face coverings and other policies that protect Kentuckians and have suppressed each new wave of infections.
Gov. Beshear ascribes much of the state’s success to many communities, including local health leaders and elected officials, as well as school and faith leaders, working together with Kentuckians to do what it takes to protect one another.
Pastor Dave Hammond of Faith Baptist Church of Myra in Pike County said, “Gov. Beshear has looked out for the health and safety of Kentuckians by taking courageous actions that have undoubtedly saved lives. We will overcome this pandemic and ride out this storm.”
A recent poll indicated 66% of Kentucky voters approve of the way the Governor has handled the pandemic. The COVID States Project, a consortium of top universities, in its latest report, finds solid majorities of Kentuckians support all seven COVID-restriction categories, which includes 85% supporting restrictions on large gatherings, nearly 74% backing limits on restaurants and 67% supporting limits on in-person school instruction. It is clear Kentuckians are united in this fight and strongly support the measures we have taken to keep people safe.
“So many have stepped up, lived their faith, and have done their patriotic duty to protect one another,” Gov. Beshear said. “Thank you, and please don’t give up now. We need everyone to buckle down and remain vigilant until we are able to vaccinate Kentuckians.”
This week, the Governor announced nearly 150,000 doses of vaccine are expected to make their way to the commonwealth this month. The public health team is working diligently on a comprehensive plan to vaccinate those in long-term care facilities and front-line health care workers first and distribute the vaccine to other key groups, including educators, as quickly as possible.
Another hallmark of the Governor’s first year was the work to create and maintain a strong 120-day stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE). The administration delivered more than 18 million pieces of PPE to government, medical and private sector entities, and more than 100 companies jumped in to help either by donating PPE or producing it, which helped ensure health care workers and other front-line workers could be better protected and reduce the spread of COVID-19. The Governor also helped welcome the newly formed U.S. Medical Glove Co. LLC, which is expected to create 192 full-time, high-tech jobs at a Paris manufacturing facility to produce medical-grade gloves.
Gov. Beshear also built a robust testing program across the state. With support from the Kentucky National Guard, as well as many community and business partners, over 350 locations throughout the commonwealth have conducted more than 2.9 million tests. The Kroger testing partnership, which originated in Kentucky, provided 70,000 tests and is now the national model that the federal government uses for surge testing.
“During this pandemic, when the supply chain for PPE and COVID-19 testing supplies was often challenged, Gov. Beshear worked tirelessly to secure the supplies our state needed,” said Russell F. Cox, president and CEO of Norton Healthcare in Louisville. “His leadership has kept our state moving forward during this difficult time, and allowed the team at Norton Healthcare to carry out our mission every day, providing the care our patients and the community needed.”
Gov. Beshear marshalled federal and state aid to help local governments and Kentuckians.
The Governor has distributed $1.6 billion in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding. Among other areas, this funding provided:
- More than $1 billion to state, city and county governments and local health departments for first responders, PPE, sanitizing, testing and telework;
- $114 million for long-term care facilities, nurse strike teams and testing;
- $40 million to create a Food and Beverage Relief Fund;
- $28 million to support post-secondary education and K-12 internet connectivity;
- $298 million to pay benefits and make unemployment insurance system improvements;
- $200-300 million to help repay the federal unemployment insurance loan;
- $15 million for an Eviction Relief Fund; and
- $15 million for a Utility Relief Fund, which already has supported families struggling at the hands of the pandemic.
Sixty-five million dollars in CARES Act funding meant that over 2,000 of Kentucky’s child care providers received sorely needed assistance when they were required to shutter, cut back on enrollment and acquire PPE. The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program delivered over $277 million in assistance to hundreds of thousands of Kentucky’s children, helping make sure they had access to food.
In addition to its immediate impact, the CARES Act funding also cycles through the economy, helping to avert budget cuts and maintain a balanced budget. The money bolstered our health care system, supported facilities that care for our seniors and children, and helped Kentuckians pay their bills.
Gov. Beshear also launched the Team Kentucky Fund, which has helped Kentuckians pay their rent or mortgage, electric bills, natural gas, sewage, propane and waste, and buy groceries. At the height of a global recession, Kentuckians, Kentucky businesses and even our children, some of whom sent a dollar and a note, donated more than $3.7 million to help their neighbors.
The record level of unemployment spurred by the pandemic and years of painful staffing cuts, location reductions and failure to upgrade IT systems slowed the state’s ability to help many Kentuckians who lost jobs through no fault of their own. Gov. Beshear has committed to doing more to fix these historical issues and noted that this year the administration paid a record 1.3 million unemployment insurance claims and more than $5 billion in wage replacement assistance when Kentucky workers needed it the most. Kentucky also was one of the few states to provide the additional $100 to claimants in conjunction with the $300 from the Lost Wages Assistance Program.
The Governor never relented in furthering his other priorities, including creating better paying jobs, putting education first, ensuring health care is a basic human right, fostering retirements that are healthy and treating each other with dignity and respect.
Actions taken by Gov. Beshear in the last year include eliminating barriers created to make it more difficult for nearly 100,000 Kentuckians to access critical health care and pharmacy benefits and restoring voting rights to more than 170,000 nonviolent, non-sexual offenders.
Rynn Young, of Louisville, was one of those Kentuckians. “In the year since having my voting rights restored, I not only participated in one but two elections, both very pivotal to America at this moment. In those moments, without saying a single word, I finally was heard,” Young said. “After 22 years, I was finally able to voice what I feel is best for not only my family, but for our beloved nation. To me, it meant the beginning of the change that I feel we all want to see. As far as how it felt, words fall short of expressing such a feeling.”
The Governor also successfully pushed for the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue from the Capitol rotunda; became the first Governor to speak at the annual LGBTQ Fairness Rally at the Capitol; reinstituted a workplace safety board to protect workers; and worked across party lines to create parameters for safe primary and general election voting.
“While we are battling this deadly virus, we continue to move the commonwealth forward and create a better, stronger Kentucky as we emerge from this pandemic, and a big part of that includes making sure Kentuckians have access to affordable health care,” the Governor said.
One in three Kentuckians currently receive Medicaid benefits, boosted by a streamlined application process for temporary benefits coverage. Gov. Beshear launched a program to provide health care coverage to underserved populations that were disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
There are 619,000 kids covered by Medicaid or the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program. Since the beginning of March, Medicaid has paid more than $10 billion in benefits for Kentuckians, which has helped fortify state, regional and local communities’ economies, from groceries to provider offices to support services, during this exceptionally challenging time.
In October, kynect was relaunched to point Kentuckians to health coverage resources, benefits and community resources, all as the administration plans for the 2021 reintroduction of a state-based health insurance exchange. The administration also helped to deliver more than 3 million meals to seniors, and the Governor in July helped to prepare the 1-millionth meal in Frankfort.
In spite of the challenges this year, the commonwealth is well on its way toward building a world-class public education system. As the first act of the Beshear-Coleman administration, the Governor appointed a new state board of education, full of experienced, award-winning educators who are dedicated to the success of our public schools. The board named a new commissioner of education and added an active teacher and a student to the board for the first time. The board took an important step of unanimously approving a resolution affirming the Kentucky Department of Education’s commitment to racial equity in Kentucky’s public schools.
In January, Gov. Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who also serves as the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet secretary, announced the new free GED Program. During the first six months of 2020, 1,032 Kentuckians successfully earned their GEDs and another 2,533 have started their journey to gaining a GED.
“Education is the foundation of moving our commonwealth forward,” said Rob Fulk, principal at Iroquois High School. “The Beshear-Coleman administration has brought bold, visionary leadership to Frankfort, and they are committed to meeting the needs of all students across the Bluegrass, preschool to beyond graduation. I appreciate their partnership and continued commitment to understanding and valuing educators and students.”
“From day one, Gov. Beshear put public education first by placing educators on the Kentucky Board of Education, proposing an education first budget and has continued with his public education-friendly agenda,” said Susan Cintra, a high school English teacher in Madison County. “Since the pandemic, his leadership has been essential to the health and safety of our students, educators and communities and has been necessary to guide local decision making. We are thankful that he has our backs in such a tumultuous time.”
Gov. Beshear has made it a core mission of his administration to create better paying jobs. Since taking office, the Beshear administration has announced more than 270 economic development projects totaling in excess of $2.56 billion in investment by private-sector companies that will create more than 8,700 full-time jobs for Kentuckians. In 2020, the average incentivized wage through November on jobs created averaged $21.66 per hour, one of the highest in years.
To assist service members and their families who call Kentucky home with better jobs, the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs entered an agreement with U.S. Army Recruiting Command to join the U.S. Army’s Partnership for Youth Success (PaYS) Program in October. This partnership allows KDVA to assist veterans and transitioning service members in finding employment opportunities in Kentucky.
Focusing on regional economic and job growth, the Governor announced many new infrastructure projects aimed at positively shaping the economic futures of every part of Kentucky, especially the Eastern and Western parts of the state.
The administration approved Abandoned Mine Lands Pilot projects in Appalachian counties that aim to revitalize the coalfields in the Appalachian region through job creation and economic development. Projects selected for the 2020 grant cycle included the King’s Daughters Health System Expansion Project in Boyd County and the Pikeville Medical Center Cancer Center Expansion Renovation Project in Pike County. More announcements are expected soon.
The Governor helped to distribute more than $124 million for nearly 160 projects to Kentucky communities through the Department for Local Government. This fiscal year, Kentucky received the largest Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) investment in a single state in decades, totaling more than $36.5 million. The funding supports 34 projects to improve economic diversification in Kentucky’s 54 Appalachian counties, many of which are affected by the changing economics of America’s energy production. In Western Kentucky, the administration received approval on all 11 of its applications, totaling $4.7 million, from the Delta Regional Authority. Projects included broadband expansions in Henderson and Hopkins counties, a clear well replacement in Henderson and a land purchase to expand a Webster County program for utility linemen, diesel mechanics and commercial driver’s licensing.
This year, the administration also completed the construction of more bridge projects than in any other year in state history. One hundred and four projects were constructed; bridges were restored in 58 counties; and 25 bridge projects are under construction and nearing completion.
The Governor also prioritized the I-69 Ohio River Crossing at Henderson in his first budget and worked with the General Assembly to identify $227 million for the project in the 2020-2026 Highway Plan. Other major successes include starting construction on a $63.6 million project to build a new U.S. 60 Cumberland River Bridge at Smithland in Livingston County; commencing visible construction in the I-Move Kentucky project, which widens both I-71 and the Gene Snyder Freeway (I-265); and securing $55.1 million in grant funding to help expand the Mountain Parkway in Wolfe County.
Gov. Beshear’s administration has placed considerable emphasis on agriculture and this year signed an international agreement with 16 other partner organizations, including the Dutch government, that are committed to building America’s agritech capital in Kentucky. The Governor also created the Governor’s AgriTech Advisory Council to advise him and welcomed AppHarvest, an ambitious agritech startup. AppHarvest aims to bring more than 300 jobs to its new facilities in Morehead, which will be the largest greenhouse of its kind, and nearby Eastern Kentucky communities as it grows tomatoes and other crops in its high-tech greenhouses. AppHarvest also has broken ground on two additional facilities.
This year, the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy administered more than $45 million in projects and programs. More than $28.8 million was approved in projects and programs that support agricultural investment areas, ranging from on-farm water and fencing to cattle genetics, value-added and marketing efforts, as well as agritech and leadership development across the commonwealth. Additionally, more than $13 million was approved for 106 projects that include statewide agricultural education, research and development programs and farmers markets.
The Governor said the year had many tough days, including having to announce deaths at long-term care facilities, which have been greatly impacted by the virus, including more than 30 veterans at a state facility in Wilmore.
Gov. Beshear took time at his near-daily media briefings to pay tribute to more than 2,080 Kentuckians lost, including health care workers, veterans, educators, family, friends and a 15-year-old student who survived cancer but not COVID-19. He shared their life stories by reading personal notes provided by family members.
The Governor said his faith, his wife, First Lady Britainy Beshear, and his children, 11-year-old Will and 10-year-old Lila, have helped guide him and lift his spirits through the year of ups and downs.
Each day, the Governor also made a point to share positive stories and news to help support Kentuckians and make sure we all get through this pandemic together. Kentuckians responded positively by sending the Governor and team cups, art, shirts, masks, letters, inspiring social media posts and donations to feature during daily updates, uplift Kentuckians and support the fight against COVID-19.
Hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians and other agencies watched the Governor’s daily briefings for the latest information on the coronavirus. Alongside public health commissioner Dr. Steven Stack and Virginia Moore, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the team communicated directly with Kentuckians. Moore helped the Governor reach the more than 700,000 deaf and hard of hearing Kentuckians and more than a dozen world language interpreters volunteered hundreds of hours to translate summaries of the Governor’s daily briefings.
That is what Team Kentucky means to the Governor – a team working together to get through this challenge, and any challenge.
“Gov. Andy Beshear’s leadership during this challenging year through which we have journeyed is what John F. Kennedy would call a ‘Profile in Courage,’” said Dr. Kevin Cosby, senior pastor, St. Stephen Baptist Church, and president, Simmons College of Kentucky. “Gov. Beshear as a ‘Profile in Courage’ has been motivated by conscience and conviction, and not convenience and politics.”
As he looks to 2021, Gov. Beshear is committed to getting vaccines distributed as quickly as possible and finding innovative ways to modernize state government and distribute new federal funds, which have not yet been approved by Congress. The Governor said if new funds are not received, no state will have the ability to defeat the pandemic.
“No one will have enough funds to distribute the vaccines, continue testing and contact tracing and support our families and struggling businesses,” Gov. Beshear said. “We are nearing the cliff and we need more help now to defeat this virus. It is time for the horse-trading in Washington to stop, and everyone needs to start putting the needs of our people first.”
On Dec. 10, 2019, Gov. Beshear was sworn in as the 63rd Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.