$400M ‘Hero Bonuses’ Will Require Legislative Consensus

Kentucky lawmakers will have to decide who will receive up to $400 million in so-called “Hero Bonuses” that Governor Andy Beshear wants allocated from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

Kentucky state law does not allow cities to pay a “bonus” to their employees. While those discussing how and whether to allocate ARPA money for essential workers have used this word, it appears that this money is “premium pay” to reimburse employees on an hourly basis for the heightened danger to their health for potential COVID exposure.

Beshear commented on the process during Thursday’s news conference that also spotlighted the continued decline in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, ventilator use, and number of medical facilities facing critical shortages.

“While we are all excited about the trends and where we are going, remember we’ll have to live with the scars, and trauma, and loss for a while,” said Beshear.

While updated daily statistics were not available during his briefing, Beshear reported that hospitalizations have decreased 17% over the last seven days in the state’s rolling average. Fifty-eight of 96 hospitals (60%) report critical staffing shortages, which is also an improvement.

He expects to report 50 new deaths later in the day, which will increase Kentucky’s total death toll beyond 9,000 lives lost to the pandemic.

Beshear said that despite declining numbers of cases, people continue to receive the vaccine with 4,000 residents vaccinated Wednesday. He also insisted that when the federal government approves vaccinations for children between 5 and 11 years of age, the state will have more than enough to meet the demand.

Three days after announcing that he’ll request legislators to allocate ARPA funds for essential workers in so-called “Hero Bonuses,” Beshear said he has not heard from lawmakers who had suggested they wanted to handle the request during a special legislative session.

When questioned on who might be eligible for their share of the $400 million, Beshear said he would leave that up to a working group to decide. The framework, he insisted, must follow federal guidelines.

“Within that, and how much, I want the group to work towards a consensus so this doesn’t turn into some blame game between different groups and we can try to get to a consensus,” he explained.

Beshear suggested that those considered should have worked in manufacturing facilities, farming operations, on the electrical grid, sanitation, and other jobs that required frontline presence. He also said requirements should include having worked two years at the same job or employer during the pandemic.

It was unclear to Beshear whether talks would include salary cutoffs, but he insisted that equity considerations be met.

Federal guidelines do not allow cities to use their own ARPA funds to provide bonuses to their employees. However, cities can use ARPA money to provide “premium pay” to essential workers only an hourly basis after amending their compensation ordinance.