Gov. Andy Beshear signaled Thursday that he wants to reward frontline workers in Kentucky who stayed on the job throughout the pandemic by giving them bonuses.
Beshear floated the proposal earlier this week, saying he wants to use $400 million of the state's share of federal pandemic aid to provide health care workers and others with the extra pay next year.
On Thursday, the governor delved deeper into his proposal for rewarding workers who put themselves at risk throughout the public health crisis to provide essential services.
“My recommendation, as it goes over, is going to limit this for those essential workers that we ultimately come to consensus on that have worked two full years — the two years of the pandemic — in that same job or for the same employer,” he said at a news conference.
In the coming days, the Democratic governor intends to send a framework of his proposal to the state's Republican-dominated legislature. He's asking that a “working group” fill in the details — including who would qualify and how much they'd receive. That group should include lawmakers and officials from his administration, he said.
“There will be a lot to decide, a lot to communicate about,” Beshear said.
Lawmakers would make the final decision on appropriating the federal assistance. The state will have to follow federal guidance in spending the pandemic aid.
Beshear said Thursday that he sees the bonuses going to workers who provided essential services, including having considerable interaction with the public. He again mentioned health care staff, emergency responders, educators, grocery store workers and factory workers employed by companies deemed essential during the pandemic.
He also mentioned a larger pool of workers Thursday who should be considered, including those working at farming operations, sanitation employees and workers who kept the electric grid “up and running.” On the government side, he said, state police and local health department personnel should be included.
Many Kentucky hospitals have struggled with chronic staffing shortages to treat an influx of coronavirus patients. Some prominent Senate Republicans urged the governor to call lawmakers into a special legislative session this year to direct immediate aid to hospitals to overcome staffing woes.
Beshear has said the federal money won’t be available until next year, when lawmakers are back in regular session. He's hoping the promise of bonuses encourages health care workers to stay in their current jobs and resist any temptation to go elsewhere for higher pay.