Twenty-one years into the 21st century, humanity endures a global pandemic for the second consecutive year.
Death, bankruptcy, hunger, homelessness, pain and suffering are a part of the human condition, but the response characterizes every generation.
Countering the travesties of the coronavirus of 2020 and 2021, adaptation, imagination and realignment prepare human beings to move onward with the vulnerability and humility that commands our existence.
Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency in March 2020, activating resources to respond promptly and appropriately to the public health emergency.
One year later, Kentucky has experienced 5,814 COVID-19-related deaths. Caldwell County has experienced 28 COVID-19-related deaths; 23 of those were in 2020. At the moment, audits and investigations are taking place to confirm the data, according to the Pennyrile District Health Department.
Amy Frogue, community and economic development associate director for Pennyrile Area Development District, works closely with district members and partner agencies to grow local and regional economies and their communities.
Currently, Frogue and the Community and Economic Development staff are preparing to submit an application to the Department for Local Government that will secure $200,000 for Caldwell County to put toward emergency utility assistance.
“It took a while for those federal agencies that were allocated funds under that act (CARES Act) to design their programs and actually get that money out into the hands of other agencies that would deliver those services,” Frogue said. “Now those funds are flowing, and we are trying to help those individuals that have been impacted financially and otherwise.”
The Community Development Block Grants, Coronavirus Emergency Grant payments are distributed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the CARES Act. Frogue estimates funds will be available in May.
“As soon as that (application) is sent to the DLG, we’re probably looking at another 30 days or so before those funds are available locally,” Frogue said. “We’re still gathering information from the utility providers, specifically how they gather their rates.”
Caldwell County Magistrate Jeff Boone was one of the four magistrates who approved the CDBG-CV Emergency Grant Payments resolution in February.
“Once the county gets the guidelines, we’ll move forward with using it however it was appropriated to be used. When you get federal money, it is usually dictated pretty strong for what you can use it for.”
The county will contract with the Pennyrile Allied Community Services to do the client intake, and they will gather all of the info necessary for the program — bill delinquency, eligibility — and PACS will issue a check directly to the utility provider, on behalf of the customer.
In Caldwell County, the Water District, Fredonia Water Department, Princeton Water and Wastewater, Pennyrile Rural Electric, Atmos Energy, Kenergy, Kentucky Utilities, and Princeton Electric Plant Board has been contacted and notified.
“We’re still ironing the details out with the state as to how exactly these funds are going to flow. This is not something that has ever been done at the state level,” Frogue said.
Other primary community-oriented relief funds in Kentucky are Healthy at Home Eviction Relief Funds, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), and Presumptive Eligibility under the Kentucky Medicaid program, among others.
Frogue also assists with managing and administering COVID-19 Capital Business Loans. In July 2020, PADD received $690,000 per CARES Act funds. As of March 24, $267,600 remains. Frogue encourages local businesses in PADD’s nine-county region to apply for the COVID-19 Capital Business Loan.
The maximum amount awarded is $25,000, which must be used for capital purposes, ranging from salaries, wages, supplies and renovations. There is a 36-month term for the loan; payments are waived for the first six months. The interest rate is 0.5%.
The National Association of Counties estimates that Caldwell County may receive $2,472,202 for American Rescue Plan’s $350 billion Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. They also estimate that Kentucky will receive $1,152,294,897.
ARP Act provides more community-oriented relief funds that will impact those who need it most — residents. It allows for necessary investments to improve broadband, sewer and water infrastructure; it provides premium pay ($13) for eligible essential workers; it assists households, small businesses, nonprofits and industries such as hospitality; it also enables funds to be transferred to private nonprofit organizations that serve on behalf of the public benefit. These funds will be managed and administered at the discretion of the fiscal court.
Kentucky’s February jobless rate was 5.2%, according to the Kentucky Center for Statistics. Some 2,121 unemployment claims were filed between March 15, 2020, and February 21, 2021; 6.6% was Kentucky’s unemployment rate for 2020.
Sheila Clark, PADD’s director of the West Kentucky Workforce Board, said, “In the past, we could actually do an in-person job fair, either in the career centers or in the community. Now, we have to get that information to them virtually. We’re still seeing high demand in health care, manufacturing and the business environment.”
Clark announced that in mid-May, Kentucky Labor Cabinet Unemployment Insurance agents will provide services at West Kentucky Workforce Career Centers.
In 2020, the Kentucky Office of Employment & Training received $6 million in COVID-19 National Dislocated Worker Grant funds. A portion of that, $551,108, was allocated to the West Kentucky Workforce Board board to assist with employment recovery in western Kentucky. “There are 10 workforce areas in Kentucky, and all 10 workforce areas have received funds from this grant.”
In terms of the workforce board receiving funds from the newly passed ARP Act, Clark said, “We wouldn’t be an entity that would be receiving those funds, right now.”
The workforce board guides the relationship between employers and workforce applicants. It also assists individuals in gaining work skills and professional development.
“We are in a much different environment in March of 2021 than in March of 2020,” Princeton Mayor William “Dakota” Young said. “We have a much greater understanding of COVID-19.”
CARES Act funds were distributed to Princeton in 2020.
“We actually got the money as reimbursement for already incurred expenses providing emergency services,” Young said. “We received it based on emergency services provided.
Caldwell County Treasurer Glenda Harper confirmed CARES Act funds primarily were used for frontline public-facing emergency response services. Caldwell County received $435,920 in the first round of funding and $146,995 during the second round. The whole amount, $582,915, was distributed to two departments — Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Management.
Considering the Department of Treasury’s preliminary guidelines thus far, ARP Act funds will reorient disenfranchisement caused by the pandemic and public health emergency.
Elisha A. Kite is the public health director for Pennyrile District Health Department, which provides health services for five counties. From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kite and PDHD staff witnessed the community’s sentiment toward the local health department’s shift.
“Many people were unaware of the services we can provide, and most have been pleased with our response to the pandemic. The best day was the day we received our first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine. We began administering the vaccine that very day to emergency personnel who were extremely grateful. It felt like the beginning of change. Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel.”
PDHD is responding to the pandemic in 2021 by distributing and tracking vaccines at its five locations, scheduling vaccination clinics and administering those vaccinations, maintaining patient records and contract tracing.