unemployment benefits

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.”

Bytemarks via Creative Commons

A bipartisan bill that would allow the state to forgive the debt of Kentuckians who were overpaid in state unemployment insurance through no fault of their own passed the state House of Representatives unanimously Tuesday.

If passed, House Bill 468 would allow the Labor Cabinet to waive overpayment debt if the debt wasn’t the fault of the recipient or if collecting the debt would be “contrary to equity and good conscience.”

Kentucky is one of ten states without a statute allowing debt from overpayment of unemployment benefits to be forgiven.

istockphoto

Since the coronavirus pandemic started taking a toll on businesses and employees in March, Kentucky’s unemployment system has been overwhelmed with claims. Although additional unemployment benefits are continuing, and there’s a possibility of system upgrades, many who have applied for benefits still have questions.  

In fact, some Kentuckians have gone without any assistance even after applying for unemployment months ago. Bruce Sauer, a Paducah resident, lost his job as an energy manager for Kentucky public school districts this summer and applied for unemployment in June.

He still hasn’t received any aid. 


Courtesy Bytemarks via Creative Commons

The Office of Unemployment Insurance is unable to determine how much money the state owes in unresolved unemployment claims, according to a report from Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts Mike Harmon released Tuesday.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March, many thousands of unemployment claims have gone unresolved for months. The resulting backlog has frustrated the Office of Unemployment Insurance and kept much needed financial support out of the pockets of unemployed Kentuckians.

Now, that backlog has also prevented Kentucky from conducting a full and accurate audit of the unemployment insurance trust fund. Harmon said it is “imperative” that the unemployment office address the lack of reliable data, especially as the General Assembly starts work on a new budget in January.

Thinkstock

After the 2008 recession revealed the weaknesses of the nation’s unemployment insurance systems, most states got to work upgrading their technology.

The need for such an overhaul was obvious, and the reason the federal government set aside $7 billion in 2009 to modernize the nation’s unemployment systems.

Forty states took the free money. But Kentucky left it on the table.

The commonwealth missed out on a cool $90 million back then. But experts say the failure to bring Kentucky’s unemployment insurance system into the 21st century is costing Kentucky to this day.


J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky Senate Republicans intend to file a bill that would prevent the unemployment office from “clawing back” money mistakenly paid to people who self-quarantined.

Republican leadership announced the plan at a press conference last week, where they discussed concerns with Gov. Andy Beshear’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Among those concerns were missteps in the unemployment insurance program that led the state to pay, then seek to recoup, benefits for people who felt they had a reasonable fear of catching the virus at work. Beshear said during a March briefing that they would be eligible, and the unemployment office has since backtracked on that offer, blaming the confusion on shifting guidance from the federal government. 

screenshot

At the daily coronavirus briefing on Monday, Gov. Andy Beshear acknowledged that Kentucky mistakenly overpaid people who requested unemployment benefits — and advised recipients to save that money if they’re notified of an investigation because the state may eventually ask for it back.

“We ask people, obviously, to save that money,” Beshear said while under quarantine at the Governor’s mansion.

As the pandemic stretches on, many Kentuckians who received unemployment insurance payments are learning the unemployment office deemed them, retroactively, ineligible. As KyCIR reported last week, many filed their unemployment claims after Beshear said his administration was expanding coverage to people who were afraid of catching the virus at work — only to be disqualified months later because the state said they took a “voluntary leave of absence.”

screenshot

Gov. Andy Beshear says he was passing along guidance from the federal government when he told folks who left work over fear of the coronavirus to self-quarantine to apply for unemployment insurance. 

That federal guidance changed about a month later, according to a statement from Beshear’s office in response to a KyCIR investigation which found Kentucky’s unemployment office is kicking people who met that criteria off unemployment benefits and billing them for “overpayment” debt. 

It’s unclear if state officials ever communicated the change to out-of-work Kentuckians after the state received new guidance in April. The state’s “frequently asked questions” page about unemployment insurance benefits still says that Kentuckians with a reasonable fear of contracting coronavirus are eligible, if their employer hasn’t offered telework or reasonable accommodations.

youtube.com

Tracey Hayes was working as a retail merchandiser in March, arranging products on store shelves around Glasgow to promote sales, when she decided she couldn’t risk exposing her mother to the coronavirus or handle child care for her two children by herself.

Hayes had been watching Gov. Andy Beshear’s daily coronavirus briefings, and she was sure Team Kentucky would have her back.

“I watched him everyday. He said, ‘Healthy at home,’” Hayes said. “So I was healthy at home.”

Bytemarks via Creative Commons.

By late April, Kentucky’s unemployment insurance office was handling more than a hundred thousand claims a week, and Gov. Andy Beshear was urging anyone who was out of work to apply during his daily briefings.

He said the state was doing everything in its power to swiftly get money to people who lost work due to the coronavirus.

In its haste to help cash-strapped Kentuckians, however, Kentucky’s unemployment office took shortcuts that violated unemployment policies and drew criticism from federal officials in Washington, according to emails obtained by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting through a public records request.

Bytemarks via Creative Commons

The state of Kentucky has hired an outside contractor to speed up the processing of unemployment claims. The coronavirus created nearly one million jobless claims in the commonwealth. 

Gov. Andy Beshear's administration has entered into a one-month contract with Ernst and Young to fix the massive backlog of applications. Three hundred of the accounting firm’s employees will begin processing claims on Monday, July 6. During a news conference on Tuesday, Beshear acknowledged the public's frustration with busy phone lines and lack of in-person assistance.

“The reality that we hear is that they can’t get somebody talking to them to fix their claim. We’re quadrupling our workforce," Beshear said. "They’re going to start calling people with the oldest claims first.”

Unemployment Insurance: How It Works And How To Apply

Mar 18, 2020
Kate Howard/KYCIR

Over the span of a few days, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear issued orders that will grind business in Kentucky to a halt and increase quick access to unemployment benefits.

By 5 p.m. Wednesday, all “public facing” businesses including entertainment, hospitality and recreational facilities, gyms and exercise facilities and hair salons will close their doors. That’s on top of the bars and restaurants that have shuttered or reduced staff as they transitioned to take out and delivery services.

As a result, many in Kentucky have already lost their income source, and many more will in the coming days. Nationwide, nearly 1 in 5 Americans have experienced a layoff or a reduction in hours due to the coronavirus, an NPR/ PBS Newshour/Marist poll found

GOP Lawmaker, Once Unemployed, Seeks to Reduce Benefits

Feb 21, 2019
LRC Public Affairs

About 20 years ago, a distribution company went out of business and Russell Webber lost his job, forcing him to rely on unemployment benefits until he could find something else.

Now, as a Republican member of the Kentucky legislature, Webber has sponsored a bill to cut those unemployment benefits, reducing the weekly rate and shortening the amount of time people can receive them.

Webber, who says he now works as a state lawmaker full time, said the changes will encourage people to find work faster. People in Kentucky average close to five months of unemployment benefits before they find another job, which is among the longest duration in the region, according to Katie Houghlin, director of the Kentucky Division of Unemployment Insurance.