FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - A northeast Kentucky lawmaker is proposing legislation for the 2021 General Assembly that would greatly increase the number of unemployment offices in Kentucky.
Rep. Terri Branham Clark, D-Catlettsburg, says she will file the bill, because the coronavirus pandemic exposed flaws in the current system, which saw the number of offices drop to 12, due to a reorganization by then-Gov. Matt Bevin in 2017. Staffs were cut and unemployment offices were closed, moving the system to a call center model.
Because tens of thousands of unemployment claims have been outstanding from March, April and May, Gov. Andy Beshear signed Ernst & Young to a one-month contract, to eliminate the backlog, which will cost $7.4 million of federal CARES Act money.
He has said he expects all claims to be handled by the end of July.
“The COVID-19 crisis has revealed how important it is to have in-person unemployment insurance assistance near where Kentuckians live,” Branham Clark said. “At a time when individuals find themselves in dire need, it is unacceptable that hurdles are placed – intentionally or unintentionally – to limit or prevent assistance to access earned benefits. It is our responsibility as representatives to be the voice for the people and repair broken systems.”
She also noted, “Former Rep. Kevin Sinnette sponsored this same bill in 2017, but it unfortunately was not even heard. As his successor representing the 100th House District, I recognize and agree with his efforts to establish in statute and protect local unemployment offices, because there is no doubt the need for this bill is even greater today.”
If enacted, Branham Clark’s legislation would complement a 2018 law designed to make significant technological upgrades to the state’s unemployment insurance program, by requiring the state reopen those career center offices closed in 2017, bringing the overall total to 54.
“The system has been hobbled for some time – it has been relying on software dating back to the 1970s, for example – and that, plus the loss of 90 jobs several years ago, hampered Kentuckians when they needed unemployment insurance the most. We need a stronger safety net for workers like these, and my bill provides that,” she said.
The 2021 General Assembly begins in early January.