Kentucky governor backs giving larger stimulus checks

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks Sept. 23 at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort in this AP file photo. While Senate leader Mitch McConnell is at the center of talks on another coronavirus relief bill, hardships are mounting in his home state of Kentucky.

FRANKFORT — Kentucky’s Democratic governor has made a pointed plea for $2,000 COVID-19 relief checks, saying the larger direct payments would pump an extra $5 billion into the state’s virus-damaged economy.

Gov. Andy Beshear sided Tuesday with those wanting to go bigger as the U.S. Senate weighs whether to more than triple the $600 checks for most Americans. The House approved President Donald Trump’s push for the larger checks, putting another Kentucky lawmaker, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, at the center of the end-of-the-year legislative showdown in the Senate.

The $600 checks would funnel nearly $2.3 billion to Kentuckians, Beshear said. Boosting the payments to $2,000 would add about $5 billion more to the state’s economy, he said.

“If that effort is blocked, it’s going to deprive our Kentucky families of $5 billion that could help them through this pandemic and could certainly help our economy, could help every small business in every location across Kentucky,” Beshear told reporters.

The relief checks will “cycle through our economy,” helping retailers, restaurants and small businesses, the governor said.

As it now stands, the federal coronavirus relief package includes a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit; support for rental assistance; and funding for vaccine distribution and virus testing and tracing. K-12 schools, colleges and child care centers would also share in the federal aid.

“This act didn’t do everything that I hoped that it would, but it is of significant help to fighting this virus, to getting back on our feet and helping our families that are struggling,” said Beshear, who has long advocated for another infusion of federal aid. “They’re going to need more help, more relief. And you’re going to see that in my budget, which we unveil next week.”

The guarantee of more federal assistance comes at an opportune time, as Beshear finalizes a state budget proposal that he’ll present to the Republican-led legislature, which convenes next week. Passing another one-year state budget — and responding to pandemic-related spending needs — will top lawmakers’ agenda during the 30-day session.

During his regular coronavirus briefing Tuesday, Beshear delved into how the latest round of federal assistance would be distributed in Kentucky.

Nearly $490 million of the aid would be allocated to Kentuckians eligible for unemployment benefits, the governor said. More than $297 million would provide rental and utility assistance, he said.

Virus testing, contact tracing and mitigation efforts would receive nearly $290 million, which Beshear said should be enough to support statewide efforts for five or six months. Nearly $57 million would fund vaccine distribution, Beshear said.

“Having these dollars ... means we can keep fighting the virus,” he said.