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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear On How His State Is Handling The Pandemic, Economy

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And across the country, governors are carefully doling out what's left of their share of the last pandemic aid package as they try to plan for future funding gaps. Governor Andy Beshear, Democrat of Kentucky, joins us now. Governor, thanks so much for being with us.

ANDY BESHEAR: Thanks for having me this morning.

SIMON: What do you think of the package on the table we just heard about?

BESHEAR: Well, we have to have something. Not having additional aid that extends past December 31 is an issue of life and death. The concept that we wouldn't have dollars for testing, for contact tracing, for vaccine distribution would mean we would lose significantly more people than we will if we are able to continue fighting this virus, even at the current levels. It's also a matter of survival for our people. So many people are about to lose their unemployment assistance without jobs out there, so many low-wage earners not getting enough to even get by and seeing a need for stimulus in our economies, especially for businesses that are hit hardest because the virus spreads within their doors. They're a type of business where people congregate. So we absolutely must have a package that is in place, you know, here in December so we can continue fighting the virus and so we can hopefully prop up our economy and help our people during these difficult times.

SIMON: You've rolled out several funds to try and help Kentuckians in recent weeks - $11 million to help people paying utility bills, 40 million in relief for restaurants affected by the pandemic. Are those funds running out?

BESHEAR: Yes, they are. So we started with a $15 million eviction fund because people need to stay in their home if they're going to be healthy at home. We are through that. The utility fund, we are still working through. The $40 million to help restaurants and bars, we already had 3,000 applications after the first 48 hours that would be 30 million of that $40 million fund. It is not nearly enough to help people get through. It's never going to make them whole, and we're never going to be able to make them whole. We are all going to be scarred in different ways after we defeat this virus. But we have got to help the people and the businesses that are suffering right now. And Congress is who and what can do that.

And we need certainty as governors. You know, we've got this bright light at the end of the tunnel with these vaccines, but it's going to take months to get there. So all of the damage that happens between now and when we can get everybody who wants to vaccinated is avoidable damage that Congress can help us lessen, protect people, save lives, shorten this recession. We've got a true opportunity to do good things here. We just need Congress to act.

SIMON: Governor, I have to ask you, you have signed an order that prohibits in-person schooling until January - being challenged in court, we'll note, including by Senators McConnell and Paul of your state. And yet, you said this week you expect to allow indoor dining on December 14. That's a week and a half from now. How do you explain the question many people have posed? Why are we reopening restaurants but keeping school closed when we know the cost to children and so many working parents?

BESHEAR: Well, I am one of those parents. I have a 10-year-old and an 11-year-old that - I can see the impact of virtual learning. But what we are seeing in Kentucky is community spread is so significant, it is overwhelming the defenses we have in our congregate settings, like long-term care facilities or schools. Take a veteran's home, where we kept this virus out until mid-October. We test three times a week there. We have all the PPE that's necessary, and we kept it out until October. We've now lost 30 veterans in that one building alone.

When we look at schools right now, it appears that they are safer than we originally thought for the kids. But we have so many teachers and custodians, bus drivers and others. And in Kentucky, the caregivers that the children come home to - we have more grandparents raising their grandkids per capita than anywhere else in the country. And we looked at all of our communities out there - that even before this order, about 80% of our schools had gone virtual.

SIMON: Let me just interject because we've only got 45 seconds left. Then why reopen restaurants on December 14?

BESHEAR: Well, we believe that we have gotten through a couple of cycles of the virus. We've got those businesses that are certainly on the brink. We believe that we can reinforce the mask rule there, and we can hope that we can do it safely. Now, we expect January 4, which is only about seven days or five days that will be virtual as opposed to in-person later, that we will be back to some form of in-person learning.

SIMON: The Governor of Kentucky, Andy Beshear. Governor, thanks so much for making time for us in a busy week.

BESHEAR: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.