Governor Updates Mayors on ARPA and COVID

During a Wednesday morning Zoom meeting with Kentucky mayors and other local officials, Governor Andy Beshear updated participants on Kentucky’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) projects and the state’s effort to fight COVID-19. The state designated $1.1 billion in ARPA funds for drinking, wastewater, broadband, and school projects. Beshear said the application process for those dollars is progressing.

The General Assembly allocated $250 million of Kentucky’s ARPA funds to plan, design, and construct water and sewer projects with social, economic, or environmental impacts. While the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority (KIA) has already funded two projects, Transportation Secretary Jim Gray told local officials on Wednesday that the state will soon announce 40 additional projects. He added that KIA has already received 700 applications.

Governor Beshear described the broadband project as “still on track.” He said the state recently updated its request for proposals (RFP), and applicants are undergoing a second round of questions with all responses expected in October.

During the 2021 Kentucky General Assembly, legislators allocated another $300 million of federal funds to deliver broadband to communities with little or no internet service. Of those funds, $50 million is set to be awarded by April 2022.

In total, Kentucky’s drinking water, wastewater, broadband, and school ARPA funds totaled $1.1 billion. The state used some of that money to pay Kentucky’s unemployment insurance loan. Beshear said there are some difficulties getting federal guidance for dispersing funds to school projects.

More ARPA allocations will await the General Assembly when it returns in 2022. Beshear said they would have another $1.1 billion to earmark, and his office is already hearing from many who hope their nonprofit, medical center, or frontline workers get a portion of those funds.

While Congress continues to work on a transportation bill, Beshear expects that plan will also contain “a lot of water and wastewater dollars that would flow to Kentucky as well.”

Beshear painted a dire picture of the pandemic. He told mayors that he expects Wednesday’s death toll to reach at least 49 and that 70% of Kentucky hospitals now face critical staffing and equipment shortages. “We’ve had to deliver beds, IV poles, and ventilators at a level and rate we’ve never had to before,” he remarked.

The governor added that regional hospitals are now treating people they would typically transfer to other centers. More than 400 National Guard troops are at 25 hospitals across the state, and Kentucky sent contractors to the hardest hit hospitals to handle COVID testing. Additionally, six Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Emergency Medical Services (EMS) teams are in Kentucky to help. Beshear urged local leaders to request help with EMS if needed. That is an issue magnified by the pandemic. Recently, the Kentucky League of Cities testified before the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government about the paramedic shortage communities currently face.

The federal government announced on Tuesday that it would limit shipments of monoclonal antibody treatments. Beshear and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack voiced frustration with the decision. Stack said the COVID-19 treatment option would significantly decrease. Currently, 8,000 Kentuckians are eligible for monoclonal antibodies, but a limited supply means only 4,500 will receive the treatment.

Stack and Beshear urged local leaders to continue a push for mask wearing in schools and public facilities. “I know that it can be hard, and it can be difficult,” Beshear said. “But it can reduce the spread, and that helps the hospitals. If we can tamp down the spread and elongate it over time, with an antibody shortage, it’s going to be more and more important for people to wear masks.”