State sets utility assistance plan, pays tribute to Fayette teacher, talks vaccine

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – The Kentucky Public Service Commission is ending its moratorium on disconnections for nonpayment for the utilities it regulates on Oct. 20. To ensure there are protections when that begins, the governor signed an executive order Monday that ends the statewide moratorium on disconnections for nonpayment on Nov. 6, but takes additional steps to help Kentuckians.

The executive order designates $15 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for the Healthy at Home Utility Relief Fund, which will provide relief for Kentuckians at risk of natural gas, water, wastewater or electric service disconnection.

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The order will also require utilities to create a payment plan for residential customers that runs no less than six months. It will continue to waive late fees on utility bills for residential customers through Dec. 31, 2020.

“Customers will apply through Community Action of Kentucky, but the funds will go directly to the utility. Community Action administers the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP and is accustomed to assisting Kentuckians in paying their utility bills,” Gov. Andy Beshear said announcing the program during his daily briefing Monday. “While this is a difficult time for many Kentuckians, this is another resource for our families.”

Kentuckians can find additional assistance paying for utilities through the funds and organizations listed here.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman updated Kentuckians on the K-12 School COVID-19 Dashboard and celebrated schools that are stepping up to help Team Kentucky defeat a once-in-one-hundred-year pandemic.

“There are 1,570 schools that have reported data at least one day, which is 41 more schools that have newly reported since last week. But that means there are still 162 schools in the state that have never reported in the three weeks since we made this information public,” said Lt. Gov. Coleman. “Thank you to our education leaders across the state who are doing the right thing. Kentucky families need that kind of effort and commitment from every education leader.”

The state also is fine-tuning its COVID  vaccine distribution plan, Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said.

On Friday evening, the Kentucky Department for Public Health, an agency of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, announced an initial, comprehensive draft plan for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to local health departments and health care organizations.

The first shipment of the vaccine is anticipated for delivery in late 2020 or early 2021 to Kentucky from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Defense.

When asked about his confidence in having the vaccine by January, Beshear was optimistic.

“I am very confident we’ll have it to be able to started in early 2021…I wouldn’t be surprised to have it in December 2020,” he stated.

Stack shared new details from that plan, including the phases for distribution outlined in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine.

“Initially, we’ll have to target certain populations to get the vaccine out as quickly as possible to the people who need it most,” said Gov. Beshear. “As we go forward in months from there, we’ll have progressively larger quantities of vaccine, and then we’re cautiously hopeful that by the time we reach the end of next year, everybody who has wanted the vaccine will have had the chance to have one.

To learn more about each phase, see page 44-45 of the state’s draft COVID-19 vaccination plan.

Beshear said the timetable for making a safe coronavirus vaccine available to Kentuckians ultimately is dependent on how quickly one is developed and mass produced for distribution.

Finally, Dr. Stack updated Kentuckians on the KDPH’s travel advisory, which recommends that travelers quarantine for 14-days after visiting states with a positivity rate equal to or greater than 15%.

The states currently on that advisory are: Iowa (50.58%), Nevada (37.16%), South Dakota (36.37%), Idaho (29.63%), Wisconsin (24.30%), Wyoming (20.22%), Nebraska (18.03%), Kansas (17.41%), Mississippi (16.93%), Alabama (16.60%) and Utah (15.44%).

And the governor shared the story of Ruthie Martinez, a beloved wife, mother, grandmother and teacher, who passed away from COVID-19. Ruthie was only 49. She lived and taught in Lexington, and was called a “warrior” by Principal Hale of Winburn Middle School.

“We spoke to Ruthie’s husband of 28 years, Miguel, who shared his wife was the most loving person and she always managed to find the good in people,” said Gov. Beshear. “He laughed remembering she once said ‘I don’t know why, but the kids who sometimes act up always love me!’ and he said it was because of her warm and supportive smile.

“Miguel said his wife was a terrific teacher and an amazing human being. She will be missed by him, their children and her grandchildren, as well as the students she impacted and all of those who loved her so much.”