The mainframe computer processing all of Kentucky’s unemployment insurance claims was built a decade before the 1980s-era arcade game Pac-Man.

For Immediate Release

June 8, 2017

Legislative panel warns of tight budgets ahead

COVINGTON – The mainframe computer processing all of Kentucky’s unemployment insurance claims was built a decade before the 1980s-era arcade game Pac-Man.

“Think about that,” Deputy Secretary for Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Brad Montell said while testifying before the Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue yesterday at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center. “This thing is old. It’s slow. It’s not employer friendly at all. It runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and then it is done. It’s got to rest. It’s got to have time to think. And it will only run five-and-a-half days a week. We got to shut her down for the weekend – literally.”

Montell, who served seven terms in the state House before joining the executive branch in October, proposed upgrading the 1973 technology with a percentage of the employer contribution to the unemployment insurance trust fund. While he didn’t say what percentage would be redirected, the minimum amount needed to update the technology is estimated at $35 million.

After the Great Recession plunged the trust fund into nearly $1 billion in debt by January 2012, its coffers have since been replenished. The fund had a positive cash balance of $425.2 million as of June 1. Montell said federal authorities have advised his cabinet that the state needs about $800 million in positive cash flow for a healthy fund.

“Good things happen when our trust fund is healthy,” he said. “We are reaping the benefits of those good things.”

Benefits have increased while employer contributions continue to fall, Montell said. The next reduction for employer contributions is forecasted to take effect in January.

In addition to upgrading the 44-year-old mainframe, Montell said the state Office of Vocational Rehabilitation needs an additional $3.8 million in state tax dollars in order to receive the total amount of federal matching money earmarked for the state. Montell said Kentucky is losing about $10 million in federal tax dollars because the state doesn’t fully fund its vocational rehabilitation office. He said the lack of money means the office tasked with finding jobs for all Kentuckians with disabilities can only assist persons with the most severe disabilities.

“That is really a shame,” Montell said in reference to Kentuckians with disabilities who are turned away.

After hearing Montell’s testimony, committee Co-chair Christian McDaniel had a warning for state cabinets and advocates of various causes: Any additional tax dollars for capital projects should create enough savings within the budgeting cycle to pay for itself.

“The fact is, absent tax and pension reform, we can expect a double-digit cut in every sector of government,” said McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill. “The pension system has simply gotten into too bad of a state – been neglected far too long. When pension and Medicaid in a decade go from 18 percent to 38 percent of the commonwealth’s budget it’s got to come from somewhere.”

He said justice, social service and education advocates all have an interest in keeping the state pension systems solvent.

“You have skin in the pension game,” McDaniel said. “You’ve had it for a long time, but now a lot of long-term problems have to have very near-term solutions. It is going to be some tight budgeting times.”

In other business, Cabinet for Economic Development Deputy Commissioner John Bevington also testified at yesterday’s meeting that his cabinet hopes to entice more businesses to expand and locate in Kentucky to increase the tax base and ease the budget constraints.

Businesses have announced $5.8 million in new investment forecasted to create more than 9,500 jobs so far this year, he said. The largest of those investments is $1.3 billion to upgrade and retool of Toyota Motor’s assembly plant in Georgetown, $1.5 billion to locate Amazon’s air freight hub to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron and $1.3 billion for Braidy Industries to build an aluminum rolling mill in Greenup County.

“We want to surpass the highest level of announced capital investment in the state’s history and announce more than 17,000 new jobs, “Bevington said of his cabinet’s goals. “We want to move the commonwealth into the top quartile of business-friendly state rankings.”

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Kentucky Senate approves repeal of Common Core standards in schools

By Valarie Honeycutt Spears and Jack Brammer

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.com

The Kentucky Senate on Friday unanimously approved a wide-ranging public education bill that would establish a new process for intervening in low-performing schools and establish a new process for reviewing classroom academic standards.

Under Senate Bill 1, revisions would be made to the Kentucky academic standards in 2017-18 and every six years after that. Teams of educators from public schools and higher education would recommend changes with suggestions from citizens.

Senate Bill 1 would repeal the controversial Common Core academic standards, but not until the new standards are rolled out in a staggered fashion, the bill’s sponsor State Sen. Mike Wilson, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has said.

Kentucky was the first state to adopt the Common Core standards and subsequently incorporated them into the Kentucky academic standards. Those standards, which have undergone other revisions, define what Kentucky students should learn at each grade level. How the standards are taught is decided by local schools.

There was no debate on the bill in the Senate on Friday but two Democratic senators praised Wilson, R-Bowling Green, for his handling of the measure that was approved on a 35-0 vote.

Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, said there is no need to question the bill because Wilson has done a good job explaining it to all involved. Wilson contacted educators, policymakers and citizens, including families of students, as he developed the bill.

Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, said Wilson’s approach to listen to all parties involved “is exactly how this body ought to function.”

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said this is the third year Wilson has worked on this “major piece of policy.”

He said it combines the realities, demands and desires of returning control of school systems back to locals.

Also under Senate Bill 1, a new assessment system would still rate schools but would not use a single numerical score that ranks schools against each other. Local districts would establish their own evaluation systems for teachers, principals and other staff aligned with a statewide framework. Evaluation results would not be reported to the state education department.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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2015 Federal Funding Law is a Win for Kentucky

“$175, 465 million for National Guard Counter-Drug Operations, including support for the Kentucky National Guard to eradicate marijuana from the Daniel Boone National Forest. The Kentucky State Police reported nearly a half million plants were eradicated in Kentucky last year.”

 

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2015 Federal Funding Law is a Win for Kentucky

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Washington, D.C. , Dec 17, 2014 | Danielle Smoot (606-679-8346) | 0 comments

U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05) praised members of the U.S. Congress for passing the consolidated federal funding bill for fiscal year 2015, to avoid a government shutdown, rein in government overreach, and fund most government agencies through September 30, 2015. As Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rogers worked tirelessly to ensure the legislation was a win for Kentucky. President Obama signed the Omnibus bill into law on Tuesday, December 16.

“This law includes funding for important programs that are priorities for communities in southern and eastern Kentucky,” said Rogers. “For example, the legislation provides specific economic development assistance for coal mining communities, funds much-needed rural housing loans, and supports a number of initiatives to fight the epidemic of prescription drug abuse. It also decreases the backlog of military veterans’ claims and reins in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Let me be clear: this law does not include any new funding for the President’s Executive Amnesty plan. We will address his amnesty plan with the new Congress in 2015.”
Additional items to note in the law that will benefit Southern and Eastern Kentuckians:

Drug Abuse
The legislation supports a holistic, multifaceted approach to the scourge of prescription drug abuse, including funding for our federal law enforcement officers on the front lines, critical drug abuse treatment programs, and educational efforts to help states implement model drug laws that reduce diversion and abuse.
$20 million is provided for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to partner with the states hardest hit by the prescription drug epidemic in developing and implementing strategies to combat addictions and abuse.
It includes the following funding for treatment, law enforcement, education and other drug-related issues: 

Treatment

  • $91 million for Drug Courts, plus an additional $1.4 million for technical training for the judges who administer these important courts
  • $5 million for Veterans Treatment Courts to meet the unique needs of those who have bravely served in the U.S. Armed Forces

Law Enforcement

  • $367 million for DEA’s diversion control program, with encouragement to intensify support for its Distributor Initiative
  • $7 million for an anti-meth task force, plus $7 million to help state and local law enforcement agencies clean up meth labs
  • $7 million for an anti-heroin task force
  • $175, 465 million for National Guard Counter-Drug Operations, including support for the Kentucky National Guard to eradicate marijuana from the Daniel Boone National Forest. The Kentucky State Police reported nearly a half million plants were eradicated in Kentucky last year.
  • $245 million for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA). The Appalachian HIDTA, covering parts of Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, has been a national leader in the fight against prescription drug abuse. In partnership with Operation UNITE, AHIDTA recently launched a pilot voluntary program in southern and eastern Kentucky to distribute free oral drug testing kits for parents who suspect their children are abusing drugs at home.

Education

  • $1.25 million to help states develop and implement legislation to reduce drug abuse. 

Other
The legislation includes a number of other provisions aimed at spurring federal action to reduce the abuse and misuse of prescription drugs. For example, the legislation: 

  • expresses opposition to the approval of the powerful painkiller, Zohydro, by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and requires the agency to report to Congress on its ability to track usage of the drug once it is on the market,
  • encourages the FDA to finalize guidance on Abuse Deterrent Formulations in order to incentivize innovation in this emerging field for manufacturing prescription narcotics, and
  • encourages the Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities to participate in the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) prescription drug take-back program. 

Coal
The legislation demonstrates the Congress’ commitment to reining in the EPA and beating back the Administration’s devastating anti-coal policies. 

  • It cuts EPA funding by $60 million below the 2014 level, causing the agency to reduce its staffing to the lowest level since 1989.
  • The Obama Administration is prevented from moving forward with a policy that would preclude U.S. investments in coal-fired generation plants overseas. By putting a halt to this regulation, the legislation ensures that U.S. coal will have a vibrant market in emerging economies around the world.
  • It prevents the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers from changing the definition of “fill material,” which would be harmful to several U.S. industries, including the coal mining industry.
  • The bill rejects a proposal from President Obama to spend $66 million on new or expanded job-killing regulatory programs at the EPA.
  • $571 million is included for Fossil Energy Research to ensure that the U.S. is developing in the necessary technology to maintain coal as a part of its energy portfolio for the long term.
  • It directs the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to submit monthly status reports on any Section 404 mining permit applications under review. These monthly reports will allow the House Appropriations Committee to oversee how many mining permit applications have been submitted, the number of days under review, and whether they are being approved.
  • The law maintains Office of Surface Mining State regulatory grants at $68 million to allow states to implement programs without increasing fees on the mining industry. It also rejects the President’s proposal to hire more Federal regulators to increase Federal oversight inspections of State programs.
  • The law prevents the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers from regulating certain agricultural areas, including farm ponds and irrigation ditches, under the Clean Water Act.

Economic and Community Development
The legislation includes funding for a number of federal programs that support the efforts of southern and eastern Kentucky communities to create new opportunities through access to pre-school and post-secondary education, access to low-income housing opportunities, and supports grants for important programs in the region. It includes:
Support for Economic Development

  • $10 million for the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to develop a comprehensive strategy to assist coal mining communities
  • $90 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), including $10 million for broadband development in distressed Central Appalachian counties
  • $2.5 million for the Small Business Administration (SBA) to make micro-loans in small and rural communities to create new job opportunities
  • $230 million to help Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) build their capacity to serve low-income individuals and communities that otherwise lack access to affordable financial products and services
  • $3 million for the HubZone Program, which helps small businesses in rural communities gain preferential access to federal procurement opportunities
  • $3.4 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to keep families safe and healthy through initiatives supporting energy assistance
  • $674 million for Community Services Block Grants, which help the region’s Community Action Agencies further their mission to provide critical services
  • $372 million for Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), a program that provides funds to local governments to help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable federal lands within their jurisdictions
  • $12.7 million for a competitive grant program to provide technical assistance for improved water quality or safe drinking water in rural communities

Support for Rural Housing

  • $900 million for Section 502 Direct Loans, which helps low-income individuals or households purchase homes in rural areas
  • $27.5 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Section 523 Self-Home program, which helps very low-income families construct their own affordable homes
  • $900 million for the HOME program, which provides formula grants to states and localities that can be used to build, buy and/or rehabilitate affordable housing for rent or home ownership or provide direct rental assistance to low-income people
  • A flat-rent provision was also included, allowing local market factors to be considered when flat-rent rates are determined. This will keep rental rates low for many of Kentucky’s Fifth District Residents.

Support for Education Programs    

  • $839 million for TRIO programs, which serves and assists low-income individuals and first-generation college students as they progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to college.
  • $301 million for Gear Up Programs, which are designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education. 
  • $8.5 billion for Head Start, which provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income families.
  • The law reinstates student aid eligibility for students enrolled in career pathways programs.
  • It provides an opportunity for laid off coal miners and other individuals that do not have a high school diploma or the equivalent to receive federal financial aid, if enrolled in an eligible career pathways program.

    Veterans

    • Directs the DoD and VA to develop an interoperable health records management system, allowing agencies within each Department to be able to communicate regarding patient services and records. 
    • Funds VA medical services at $45.2 billion, including funding for mental health services, suicide prevention and treatment for homeless veterans
    • Includes $2.5 billion for processing the disability claims backlog at the VA
    • Provides $5 million to the VA Office of the Inspector General for the purpose of addressing the VA “wait list” scandal and continue auditing the VA hospital appointment scheduling process and lapses in patient care

    Rogers has served Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District since 1981. With a focus on economic development, job creation, fighting illegal drugs and preserving Appalachia’s natural treasures, he has a reputation for listening to his constituents and fighting for the region he represents. For more information, visit http://halrogers.house.gov/ or follow Rogers on Twitter @RepHalRogers or on Facebook @CongressmanHalRogers.  

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    Tags: Homeland Security and National Defense, Education, Illegal Drugs, Economic Development and Job Creation, Wayne County, McCreary County, Pulaski County, Whitley County, Laurel County, Rockcastle County, Knox County, Jackson County, Bell County, Clay County, Harlan County, Leslie County, Owsley County, Lee County, Breathitt County, Perry County , Wolfe County, Knott County, Letcher County, Menifee County, Morgan County, Magoffin County, Floyd County, Rowan County, Lawrence County, Martin County, Pike County, Johnson County, Bath County, Veterans, Boyd County, Carter County, Elliott County, Lincoln County

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