Beshear vetoes measure seeking early end to COVID emergency
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A Republican-backed measure calling for an early end to Kentucky’s COVID-19 state of emergency was vetoed Wednesday by Gov. Andy Beshear, who said it would cut off extra food assistance to struggling Kentuckians.
The state’s GOP-dominated legislature finished work on the measure last week, with supporters saying it signaled that life is getting back to normal after the long fight against the pandemic.
But the Democratic governor said the legislature’s action would “take food directly off the tables” of about a half-million Kentuckians, many of them children or elderly.
The measure would cut their monthly average food stamp benefits by about $100 during a time of rising food prices, Beshear said. The federal government can only provide the extra benefits to states with an emergency declaration related to COVID-19, he said.
As of February, about 544,000 low-income Kentuckians qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Because of the pandemic, the federal government has provided about $50 million more in monthly SNAP benefits to Kentucky, according to Dustin Pugel, a senior policy analyst with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.
Beshear wielded his executive powers during the state of emergency to impose pandemic-related restrictions. Republicans bristled at his actions, and the legislature last year reined in those emergency powers to fight the virus.
The governor has said there’s no pressing need to end the emergency.
“I believe that given we have zero statewide (COVID) restrictions — and we haven’t for six months — all this resolution does is hurt these folks by cutting off this extra food aid while doing absolutely nothing else,” Beshear said Wednesday in a veto message posted on social media.
Beshear — who has had his vetoes routinely overridden during his term — urged the GOP-dominated legislature not to do so this time.
“It comes down to this simple question: Do you want our struggling seniors and kids to be able to afford enough food as we navigate out of this pandemic?” Beshear said. “I certainly do.”
State Senate President Robert Stivers has said the measure states that lawmakers have no intent to “impair or delay” the state’s ability to receive pandemic-related federal funds. The Republican leader has suggested that another potential remedy for the extended food benefits is through the emergency regulation process.
In a letter to legislative leaders, the governor on Wednesday pushed for an extension of the state of emergency to secure the extra food aid. Beshear said his administration consistently pointed to the extra federal food stamp benefits when discussing the emergency with legislative leaders.
The vetoed measure calls for the state of emergency — first put in place in early March 2020 — to end as soon as the resolution takes effect. The legislature had previously set mid-April for the emergency to end.
The legislation is Senate Joint Resolution 150.