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Bytemarks via Creative Commons

Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration might partner with the federal government to build a new unemployment insurance system.

Like much of the nation, Kentucky struggled to keep up with a surge of applications for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Beshear administration has blamed the problems on understaffing, antiquated software and security issues that have led to delays in overhauling the system.

During a legislative hearing on Tuesday, Labor Cabinet Secretary Jamie Link said the federal government is forming a consortium of five or six states to share a “core unemployment system” and Kentucky is considering joining.

But he said the state may decide to overhaul the system on its own.

Facebook/Daviess County Public Schools

After a tumultuous year disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kentucky school districts are preparing for a more traditional in-person setting as the new academic year approaches.  

One district in western Kentucky that has 70 open slots is hoping a Saturday job fair will help fill some of those positions. 

Daviess County Schools Human Resources Manager Courtney Payne said the number of open positions is not unusual because this is always a busy time of year for hiring. 

“There may be a few more positions than a typical year, nothing drastic. But we’re seeing a significantly lower number of applicants.," said Payne. "So that has been the biggest struggle that we have faced with Daviess County Public Schools, is the number of applications coming in.”


Kevin Willis

 

The federal government is rescinding thousands of payments promised to struggling restaurants. 

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was meant to provide pandemic relief. Initially, the program offered a 21-day exclusivity period for women, military veterans and “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals” to apply first. But a series of lawsuits halted the program, accusing it of being unfair because it prioritizes businesses owned by women and people of color.

One of the lawsuits was filed in the Eastern District of Tennessee by Antonio Vitolo, the owner of Jake’s Bar and Grill in Harriman, Tenn., who said he was discriminated against because he is a white male. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed.

In light of the court rulings, nearly 3,000 applicants had their grants revoked.

Yasmine Jumaa

Kentucky has the third highest increase in unemployment claims nationally ━ according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of labor ━ with 9,172 new filings. 

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell met with state business officials Monday to talk about Kentucky’s post-pandemic economic recovery. He said the extra $300 in federal benefits is the reason fewer people are returning to the workforce.

“There’s no question that we’d be in better shape if the governor had made a decision to discontinue the federal bonus as 25 other states have,” McConnell said. “I was on a conference call with a group of companies ━ some in Kentucky and some in Indiana ━ and they reported that when the Indiana governor discontinued the extra $300 [per] week bonus, the next day, they got 200 job applications.”

Corrine Boyer

Kentuckians receiving unemployment benefits could be eligible for a $1,500 payment if they re-enter the workforce by the end of July.

Gov. Andy Beshear announced the new back-to-work incentive at a press conference Thursday afternoon. Kentucky officials estimate roughly 60,000 residents are receiving $300 in weekly pandemic unemployment assistance on top of state unemployment benefits. The state is setting aside $22.5 million in federal CARES Act funding for the new program, which would cover the incentive payments for 15,000 participants.

Some critics have called for the end of the additional unemployment benefits. Beshear says doing so would harm Kentucky families and the economy.

J. Tyler Franklin

Republican lawmakers clashed with officials from Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration during the first meeting of the legislature’s Unemployment Insurance Reform Task Force Tuesday.

Like much of the nation, Kentucky struggled to keep up with a massive influx of applications for unemployment benefits during the pandemic, leading to a backlog of benefitsfraudulent claims and a data breach.

Republicans have blamed Beshear for the problems and this year the GOP-led legislature created the task force to look for solutions to the state’s unemployment system.

Sen. Mike Nemes, a Republican from Louisville and co-chair of the panel, said the issue is important, but lawmakers aren’t trying to blame anyone.

Updated June 16, 2021 at 2:08 PM ET

Two organizations filed a lawsuit against Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb in an attempt to block the state's push to end pandemic unemployment benefits on June 19. This lawsuit may be the first of its kind that aims to stop states from ending these benefits earlier than Congress mandated.

Bytemarks via Creative Commons

Even though Kentucky’s coronavirus cases have declined, businesses have reopened and restrictions have lifted, thousands of Kentuckians are still waiting on unemployment benefits they applied for during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vicki Lahman filed for unemployment in February 2020 after she was laid off from Louisville department store Shaheen’s shortly before the first case of coronavirus was reported in Kentucky.

Lahman is 75 years old, has COPD and is back to work at Shaheen’s now. But despite months of applications and calls to the state’s unemployment office, she only received one unemployment check in March of last year.

Her daughter, Heather Calamita, helped her throughout the process. She said they reached an unemployment official over the phone in May of last year who told her Lahman’s application had been put in “the wrong pile” and the situation would be quickly fixed.

Facebook/ConCon's

It's the first full week that businesses across Kentucky reopened with no mask, social distancing or capacity requirements.

Some changes made to meet the challenges of the pandemic turned out to be good for business. 

Along Russellville Road in Bowling Green, one visible change made during the pandemic is a white tent installed in front of a little diner named ConCon’s

Owner Connie Blair said she had to adapt quickly to the requirements of the pandemic. She didn’t have any indoor dining for nine months

“I never shut the doors, not at all. I put in the drive-up window in six hours after it started and I put a PA system outside,” said Blair. “You know, they just cracked their window and waited for me tell ‘em to pull up to the window and pick their food up.”

She said the changes that saved her business are going to stay. 


Kevin & Remi Mays

Colleges and universities across the country recently celebrated graduates from the spring class of 2021. Those degree-holders are entering a job market that looks to be improving, given the wide availability of effective COVID-19 vaccines.

That’s very different from the job market seen by those who graduated last year, as an unchecked pandemic was wreaking havoc on the economy. Many graduates from the class of 2020 have had their job prospects curtailed by the pandemic and are still figuring out how to move forward. 

One class of 2020 graduate from Western Kentucky University has been focusing on the positives during what she called her unexpected hiatus. 

  

J. Tyler Franklin

The Kentucky Office of Unemployment Insurance is reinstating work search requirements for residents seeking unemployment benefits.

The state waived work search requirements at the beginning of the pandemic to make the benefits process easier for out-of-work Kentuckians. Starting May 9, however, claimants will have to prove they are actively seeking employment to receive benefits.

Amy Cubbage, general counsel with the Kentucky unemployment office, said claimants will have to report at least one attempt to find work per week.

“You are allowed a reasonable period of time to find work that is comparable in pay and skill level to your most recent employment,” Cubbage said.

istockphoto

State Auditor Mike Harmon says at least 10 workers in the state unemployment office improperly filed for benefits last year and used their official positions to access their accounts.

The findings come after a series of reports this year of state employees wrongly filing for jobless benefits despite keeping full-time jobs with the state.

In the audit released Wednesday, Harmon said he couldn’t determine if employees actually made changes to their claims. He said he is referring the findings to the attorney general’s office for possible prosecution.

Harmon, a Republican, said the report shows Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration mishandled the system during the pandemic.

Brittany Patterson

In Central Appalachia an estimated 538,000 unplugged oil and gas wells and 853,393 acres of abandoned mine lands sit unreclaimed, often polluting the air and water, and presenting public safety threats.

But according to two new reports from the regional think tank Ohio River Valley Institute,  these sites that now pose serious health risks to residents could be providing thousands of jobs for the region. The group’s findings indicate that, should the federal government take the risk seriously and invest in mitigation, not only would environmental risk be reduced, but thousands of well-paying jobs could potentially be created.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky will take its unemployment system offline for four days starting early Friday morning to try to interrupt an ongoing effort to hack into user accounts.

There will be no way to file new claims between Friday and Monday. Amy Cubbage, general counsel with the Kentucky unemployment office, said the shutdown will require claimants to reset login information, like PINs and passwords.

“You will not be able to file new claims or requests for benefits,” she said. “If you need to file a new claim during that time, we will be able to backdate that claim for you…No one will lose out on their chance to request those weeks of benefits.”

Margaret O'Donnell

Kentuckians pushing to lift people out of poverty and guarantee access to voting took part in a car caravan in Frankfort on Monday.

The Poor People’s Campaign organized car caravans in more than 25 states, including Kentucky, in an ongoing series of nationwide demonstrations the group calls "Moral Mondays." 

Kentucky supporters of the Poor People’s Campaign made their voices heard by driving in a "pandemic safe" caravan around the state capitol.

The caravan was followed by an outdoor news conference and two members of the group - wearing masks - going into the building to deliver printed copies of 14 demands to state legislators. Those demands are related to social justice and ending poverty. 


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