Poultry Plants Allowed To Operate Faster Amid COVID-19 Outbreaks Among Workers Thursday, Aug 6 2020 

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Tyson Foods sought and received federal permission to increase the operating speed at poultry processing plants in Kentucky and southern Indiana even as public health officials reported dozens of coronavirus cases among Tyson workers. Now, a union representing workers at meatpacking plants in Kentucky and southern Indiana is one of several plaintiffs suing the federal government over waivers that allowed Tyson Foods and other companies to operate faster.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) granted waivers in April to several plants across the country, including to Tyson Foods plants in Henderson County, Kentucky, and Corydon, Indiana, near Louisville. The waiver program, which started in 2018 following USDA denying a petition from an industry group to remove processing limits, allows select poultry slaughterhouses to increase their top processing speed from 140 to 175 birds per minute.


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Protesters Demanded More Black Representation In NuLu. Will They Get It? Wednesday, Jul 29 2020 

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When Darryl Goodner was looking for a brick and mortar spot for his ice cream shop, Louisville Cream, his first choice wasn’t necessarily NuLu. But after exhibiting as a vendor at the NuLu Fest street fair, he checked out a storefront and went for it.

The deal happened to make sense, he said. And it was like literally the first and only place we looked.

Louisville Cream offers flavors like Peanut Butter Feelings and Pistachio Honeycomb. Goodner said it fits in NuLu, in terms of the business and the branding. But as an organization, it’s insulated. Goodner said he’s never been to a meeting of the NuLu Business Association. He doesn’t have the time.


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Attorney General Revives Lawsuit Against State Pension Officials and Hedge Funds Thursday, Jul 23 2020 

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Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron has revived and expanded a lawsuit accusing hedge fund managers and Kentucky Retirement System officials of mishandling the state’s troubled pension fund for public employees, which at 13 percent solvency is among the worst funded in the country.

Cameron filed an intervening complaint joining the Mayberry et al. v. KKR & Co., L.P. et al case on Monday.

In the original case, retired Kentucky State Policeman Jeffrey C. Mayberry and seven other Kentuckians who are entitled to KRS pensions accuse KRS employees and a group of hedge funds and hedge fund owners of mishandling the pension investments.


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Without State Contract, Passport Health Plan Plans To Sell Business To Competitor Friday, Jul 17 2020 

Passport Health Plan, the Louisville-based Medicaid provider, announced plans Friday to sell some of its assets and property to competitor Molina Healthcare of California.

The state again passed over contracting with Passport this spring, after Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration reopened bids for contracts over concerns that his predecessor Matt Bevin’s bid process for managed care organizations may have been biased. Bevin’s administration announced in November its plan to drop Passport.

The companies announced Friday that Molina would purchase assets such as Passport’s brand, operations, clinical infrastructure and more. Molina also said it would offer employment to 500 Kentucky-based employees of Passport and its majority-owner Evolent Health, based in Virginia.

Molina said it would pay $20 million with cash on hand to purchase these assets. The deal is subject to regulatory approval.

“While we are disappointed that Passport was not awarded a new MCO contract, we firmly believe that this agreement provides the best path forward for Passport members, providers, employees and our community,” Passport CEO Scott Bowers said, according to a news release. “The trusted Passport name and brand will live on and, more importantly, this agreement provides continuity of care and coverage for our members during these challenging times for our community.”

Passport struggled financially following changes to Medicaid reimbursement rates, and with most of its business based in Kentucky, the loss of a state contract raised questions about its continued existence.

“We look forward to being able to achieve a major objective of this transaction, which is the continuity of care for Passport’s members,” Molina’s president and chief executive officer Joe Zubretsky said, according to a news release.

The organization had about 315,000 members at the end of June, when its previous contract with the state expired, it said.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in a statement he was excited to see a smooth transition for Passport’s members and employees.

“And I’m thrilled at the prospect of seeing the project at 18th and Broadway proceed. My team and I look forward to working with Molina on their plans and supporting even more opportunities for west Louisville and its residents,” he said.

The $20 million price tag does not include Passport’s 20-acre property near 18th St. and Broadway in west Louisville. Passport said Molina would purchase that real estate in a separate transaction, but a representative did not immediately respond to a question about its sale price.

Passport announced plans in 2017 to build a corporate headquarters in west Louisville, where much of its member base lives. The $130 million project was intended to be one of several major developments in the area, but the organization put it on “indefinite hiatus” amid financial troubles in February 2019. That news was disappointing to supporters who saw it as an opportunity for positive economic development in a part of the city long depressed by racist policies that historically preempted that sort of investment.

In January, Molina publicly expressed interest in leasing that site, though at the time the company said it was not interested in developing it. Days later, as it attempted to save its business in Kentucky, Passport said it was considering hiring a developer for the project and that it was open to selling the property.

Fees Could Go Up By More Than 1,000% For Some Kentucky Food Producers Under New Rule Wednesday, Jul 15 2020 

A proposed rule in the Kentucky Department of Public Health would raise the permitting fees for small-scale food producers in the commonwealth. Some producers worry the increase could put them out of business.

The regulation would impact 536 food producers and would change the fee structure for food safety inspection from one based on the size of a facility to one based on risk. Inspection fees for low-risk products like coffee, cosmetics and grains would cost $750 each year; medium-risk producers, such as those making baked goods, jams and jellies, syrups and candy, would pay $1350 each year; and high-risk products including peanut-butter, pickles, salads and sandwiches would set producers back $2,400 annually.

The rule would affect producers operating out of commercial kitchens who have permits to sell online, wholesale, or across state lines. It would not affect producers operating out of unpermitted home kitchens.

“We’re hardly breaking even, so for them to try to raise this [fee], it’s going to shut us down,” said Sheryl Long, who produces maple syrup and other value-added goods at SouthDown Farm in Letcher County. The regulation would raise the yearly fee to inspect their sugar shack from $120 to $1,350, an increase of 1,035 percent. Sheryl and her husband Seth Long also produce some goods at a nearby community kitchen, which would mean another $1,350 expense each year.

Documents filed with the Legislative Research Commission show that the regulation would raise more than $1 million per year from 613 food manufacturers and cosmetics producers.

The potential fee increase has raised concern in the Department of Agriculture, where Commissioner Ryan Quarles has committed to filing a formal comment with his colleagues at the Department of Public Health.

“When we first learned about a potential fee increase on our food-based processors across the state, of course we were concerned,” Quarles said in an interview with the Ohio Valley ReSource. “As we open up our economy, a lot of these small businesses are already in a fragile financial state, and so we need to have extra caution about any cost of business changes.”

The rule would add new types of facilities to those that require food safety inspection by the Department of Public Health. Those include grain elevators, which are currently overseen by the Department of Agriculture, and food banks, which are not currently subject to inspection by DPH.

Tamara Sandberg is the Executive Director of Feeding Kentucky, a network of seven food banks and 400 food pantries across the commonwealth. She said since she learned of the proposed rule, she polled Feeding Kentucky members, and only one respondent had heard anything directly about the proposal.

“We’ve been spending the last few weeks trying to make sense of it and where food banks fit. It’s kind of hard to understand if and how food banks are included,” Sandberg said. “The larger regional food banks that make up our network may be more likely to absorb some of the additional costs if they’re implemented, but we’re particularly concerned about smaller, more rural food pantries throughout Kentucky that are run completely by volunteers. This is something that could be very problematic for them to address, at the same time we’re already struggling because of the pandemic.”

In addition to running SouthDown Farm, Seth Long is the president of the Kentucky Maple Syrup Producers Association, which believes maple syrup could become a valuable niche crop in Appalachian Kentucky. He worries the new regulation would be a powerful disincentive for a small farmer thinking about getting into the maple syrup industry.

“In this post-coal economy, especially here in central Appalachia, we seek to diversify our economy. And I think agricultural pursuit can be a real economic driver,” Long said. “I think when starting producers see $1,350 to get started, it’ll be a limiting factor for them.”

DPH did not respond to emailed questions about this story. The department is accepting public comment on the rule until August 31.

Ohio Valley Coal Companies Get Tens Of Millions In Paycheck Protection Loans Tuesday, Jul 7 2020 

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More than 50 Ohio Valley coal companies received loans totaling as much as $119 million through the Paycheck Protection Program meant to keep people employed during the pandemic’s economic downturn. 

Congress passed the PPP in March to help businesses keep employees on the payroll and out of unemployment lines. The data released by the Small Business Administration does not show specific dollar amounts for the loans, but rather categorizes loans into ranges such as $150,000 to $350,000 at the lowest end, and $5 million to $10 million at the upper end. 

Six Ohio Valley coal companies fell into that high-dollar category, including Rhino Energy, whose former CEO David Zatezelo currently heads the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. 


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RECLAIM Act To Boost Coal Communities Passes House As Part Of Infrastructure Bill Thursday, Jul 2 2020 

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The U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that includes two provisions that would specifically help coal-reliant communities in the Ohio Valley.

The bill, called the Moving Forward Act, includes funding for roads and bridges, rural broadband, drinking water system repairs, renewable energy, and affordable housing, all of which Democrats say would create millions of jobs and help the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.


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Advocacy Groups Unveil Plan For A 21st Century Coal-County Economy Monday, Jun 29 2020 

Environmental and economic advocacy groups from coal-producing parts of the country unveiled a policy agenda on Monday to help coal-reliant communities make a transition to a more sustainable future.

The plan includes items that have long been on the wish list for groups like Appalachian Voices and the Just Transition Fund, both of which were involved in drafting the plan. Items include creating jobs in coal-mine reclamation and investing federal dollars in infrastructure improvements.

The plan, which drafters are calling the National Economic Transition Platform, focuses on the needs of coal-reliant communities across the country, drawing connections between the challenges faced in West Virginia and Appalachian Kentucky to those faced in the Navajo Nation hundreds of miles away.

“The workers in the communities that gave the most to power our nation in the last century should be among the first to benefit from and to create the new economy that’s emerging in the 21st century,” said Adam Wells, the Regional Director of Community and Economic Development for Appalachian Voices.

Wells said the needs of coal-reliant communities are so high that coordinated federal intervention is necessary. “If we want the communities where we live to continue to be good places to live, there has got to be a disciplined and thoughtful, bottom-up intervention that happens to bring our economy and our social support systems into the 21st century,” Wells said. “And so failure is not an option here.”

Wells and others involved in the plan hope to present the plan to lawmakers and candidates at all levels of government, both to hold them accountable to coal communities and in the hopes that lawmakers would turn the plan into legislation in the coming years.

Coal Towns Were Counting On Tourism For New Jobs. Then Coronavirus Hit. Monday, Jun 29 2020 

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On a recent sunny weekday, Bill Currey proudly walks among 30 neatly stacked, brightly colored plastic kayaks. Birds chirp merrily, and the soothing sounds of the meandering Coal River permeate the background — nature’s version of a white noise machine. 

For the tanned Currey, who also owns an industrial real estate company, being here, on the river, is as good as it gets. His goal is to share this slice of paradise with as many people as will listen. 


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Ohio Valley Farmers Receive More Than $100 Million So Far In COVID-19 Relief Wednesday, Jun 17 2020 

Ohio Valley farmers have received more than $100 million so far in federal relief payments to offset the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with potentially more payments on the way.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance program plans to distribute up to $16 billion in direct payments to farmers, with farmers able to apply for relief through August. USDA data released Monday show 220,280 farmers across the country have already received $2,895,127,039 in total.

Kentucky farmers have received $73,460,020, Ohio farmers have received $45,904,465, and West Virginia farmers have received $4,461,751. The Ohio Valley has generated 18,377 applications out of 274,678 applications nationwide so far.

These relief payments follow $616,287,779 in payments Ohio Valley farmers received through a separate federal program, the Market Facilitation Program, to offset economic losses caused by retaliatory tariffs on farm commodities by China and other countries. The Market Facilitation Program received criticism for some farmers receiving substantial payouts — twelve farms in Ohio and Kentucky received at least $500,000 — and for payments going to applicants who weren’t farmers at all.

Even with ongoing federal coronavirus relief payments,, a recent report published by the Food and Agricultural Policy Institute at the University of Missouri showed U.S. farm income could sharply drop by 12% next year, due to stagnant demand for commodities including soybeans and corn if more federal relief payments aren’t provided.

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