January 28, 2000 | By: Haven Miller

The distribution of Kentucky's Phase II tobacco settlement money is completed, and by all accounts is an unqualified success. Recent figures show that 167,000 Kentuckians received checks. That number represents a healthy 96 percent of available funds distributed.

These results are better appreciated when compared to results from other tobacco states. For example, in one of those states only 58 percent of available settlement money was paid out, at a distribution cost of about $ 5 million paid to a private law firm.

In Kentucky, distribution was handled by the Tobacco Settlement Trust Corporation, the government entity chaired by Governor Paul Patton. Administrative costs for the Corporation were less than $ 800 thousand to cover such things as photocopying, check writing, and postage.

A major factor in keeping costs down was the enlistment of support from UK's Cooperative Extension Service and USDA's Farm Service Agency. County Extension agents regarded the hours donated toward Phase II distribution part of their regular jobs. The combined team effort paid off in real dollars. According to Trust Corporation president John-Mark Hack, Kentuckians received $ 109 million worth of checks, with an average check worth $429. Eighty-two percent of the checks went to recipients with 8,000 pounds or less of tobacco.

Through special meetings, personal contacts, coordination of volunteers, statewide television and radio appeals, and extended office hours that included weekends, Kentucky's Extension agents and other Cooperative Extension personnel worked with people who were eligible for settlement checks and made sure they properly filled-out and submitted their applications in a timely manner.

UK's outstanding contribution was recognized by Governor Paul Patton in a letter to Dr. Oran Little, Dean of the College of Agriculture.

"Over the years the tobacco growers of Kentucky have come to depend upon the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture to provide timely and dependable information regarding the agricultural issues that impact this great Commonwealth," wrote Gov. Patton. "Once again you have proven your dedication to serve those individuals."

According to College figures, Cooperative Extension personnel helped organize 488 meetings around the state with more than 28,000 people attending. Extension was responsible for more than 36,000 consultations regarding the settlement.

"We're in the business of helping Kentuckians, so we're extremely proud our College and Cooperative Extension Service had the opportunity to be a significant part of the team effort that helped put settlement checks into the hands of our tobacco families," said Dr. Little. "Our ability to help out during a year of low commodity prices and drought made the program's success especially gratifying."

Little said the College looks forward to participating in the program in 2000, and stays ready to help the state's tobacco growers in any way it can.