Sen Mills in committee

Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, asks Department for Local Government officials a question relating to COVID-19 relief programs during Wednesday’s Interim Joint Committee on Local Government. Mills represents Caldwell County in the upper chamber of the Kentucky General Assembly.

Lawmakers heard from state agencies and others on Wednesday about how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting governments in Kentucky.During the Interim Joint Local Government Committee meeting, Department for Local Government Commissioner Dennis Keene spoke about some of the federal money that has been made available.

That includes $300 million allocated for Kentucky under the CARES Act, which is to be used by Dec. 31. “That’s limited to the purchase of personal protective equipment for health and safety employees, and expenses for communication and enforcement governments for the COVID-19- related public health orders,” he testified.

Other allowable uses, according to Keene, include, “Expenses for food delivery for nursing homes and vulnerable populations. Improvements necessary for public employees to telework while under public health precautions. Expenses for disinfections of public spaces and facilities, and payroll expenses for public safety, public health and home care, human services and similar employees who dedicate substantial time to mitigating or responding to public health emergences.”

The CARES Act money is to be distributed by population.

In addition, Keene says Kentucky received community development block grant money of $15.5 million in the first round and $16.9 million for the second round. A third round of CBDG grants will be determined at a later date.

Dr. Paul Coomes, with the Pegasus Institute, told the panel that state and local governments have done better than anticipated during the pandemic.

“Originally, we were projecting pretty severe declines, based upon the economic information,” he said. “But the fiscal data wasn’t as bad as the economic data. At least in Louisville, Lexington and the state level, they’ve been revising their numbers upward a little bit over the past few weeks.”

He said the tax structure at the local level has held up reasonably well, given the economic damage around the state.

“Party it’s due to reliance on property taxes where revenue is rising, which is a large part of city and county revenue,” Coomes testified. “Also, the insurance premiums tax, which is used heavily around the state continues to grow.”

He says local governments have also used the last 7-8 years to build up their reserves and have used the so-called “rainy day fund” to offset losses in payroll taxes. CARES money has also helped.

Coomes also said the state’s individual income tax receipts actually rose 12% in May, which he couldn’t understand, since Kentucky had a job loss of 287,000 jobs, so he contacted state officials.

“They said it was largely because people who are receiving unemployment insurance payments, are checking a box to withhold ten% of that for income tax purposes,“ he stated. “I think it was about a $35 million boost the state because of this.”

He added federal stimulus money to governments and individuals were also a big factor in making things better.

Mark Carter, who heads up Kentucky’s contact tracing program for COVID-19 cases, described their efforts to the Interim Joint State Government Committee. He noted that contact tracing does not track your movements, it’s to protect family and friends, and that local health departments have used it for years.

He says part of their efforts include a public education campaign about the process. “We can have an army of contact tracers and the greatest system in the world, but if the public isn’t comfortable participating and does not participate, then this as a mitigation strategy will not be successful.”

Carter said contact tracing will help the economy re-open and thrive, and that through the CARES Act, 700 contact tracing positions can be funded, in addition to the 206 already on the payroll of local health departments.

In response to questions from the panel, Carter said the information is secure and is not subject to Opens Record Act requests, due to the federal HIPAA laws, which keep such information private.